“They see me as a task mannequin”: Black academics enhance instructional outcomes for black scholar life-style
In the second grade, Noah Reilly was hired to run an immigration project. He and his classmates had to write short articles about their ancestors ‘travels to the United States, and make dolls that represented their families’ stories. But Noah had the feeling that his doll would look different.
“My mother said I would probably be the only one doing this [doll]and I was the only one, ”said Noah.
For his project, Noah wanted to tell the story of his mother’s family, who are black. He is a multiracial child attending school in suburban Philadelphia, where black children make up only 5% of the student population. Noah’s teacher was white.
“I think it was hard for the teacher to understand why the project was a problem that not everyone has an immigration history,” said Monet Reilly, Noah’s mother. “There was obviously a large group of people who came here as slaves. And not as willing immigrants. “
Reilly said the project forced her to talk to Noah about slavery, something she was not ready for. And despite several attempts to raise concerns about his teacher, it was generally dismissed.
“She said to me, ‘Well, you know the Irish came here as slaves too,’ as if that somehow made it better that I had to explain to my then 7-year-old what slavery is and why it’s not the same as Immigration, “said Reilly.
At the time, black teachers made up only 1% of Noah’s school district. Reilly said if there had been more paint teachers in his school someone could have looked at the project and intervened earlier.
The Tennessee Star Experiment
Noah is now in fourth grade and has never had a black teacher until this year. This absence of black teachers is a reality for many black students across the country. For decades, researchers and policy makers have tried to understand whether a racial battle between teachers and students has positive effects on educational outcomes. If a black student is exposed to a black teacher early on, is the student more likely to perform better on standardized tests, high school graduation, and college enrollment?
Tennessee paved the way for researchers to answer this question over the years. In the 1980s, the state was keen to pass guidelines that would control and minimize class size in public schools. However, it wanted rigorous evidence that it would have a positive impact on student outcomes. So in the mid-1980s it approved a massive educational experiment called the Tennessee Star Experiment, one of the most critical experiments in the history of educational research.
Seven thousand students in 79 schools were recruited, and they randomly assigned students in those schools to either small, full-size, or full-time classes with a full-time teacher. One of the most important things that later led her to a lot of research was that she randomized the students and teachers according to these conditions and from each other – which meant that randomization by class size meant that the race of teachers was randomized too.
Cassandra Hart, associate professor of education policy at the University of California at Davis, said previous studies had used this dataset to demonstrate the short-term impact of racial teachers on things like next year’s test scores or this year’s discipline. In 2018, Hart and a team of educational policy researchers used the Project Star data to study the long-term effects of a black teacher as a black student.
“Previous studies had shown … Black students who matched black teachers saw modest advantages in terms of their performance on standardized tests,” Hart said. “And we wanted to investigate whether there are longer-term results. So, if you are attuned to a black teacher in your elementary school years, it still plays a role in things like your high school graduation and ultimately your college enrollment results. “
Hart and her colleagues found that black students who were randomly compared to black teachers performed better over the long term. Black students exposed to black teachers in third grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college. If kids had two black third-grade teachers, Hart said, their chances of enrolling in college rose to 32 percent. Hart and her colleagues call this the model effect.
“One way is that there can be role model benefits. So having a black teacher act as a subject matter expert in front of the class can serve as a role model and increase the children’s long-term aspirations for themselves,” she said.
Hart says there is also good evidence in the social science literature that students respond to the expectations we have of them. Research shows that black teachers tend to have slightly higher expectations of their black students. And black educators are more likely to use references or examples that draw on the lived experience of their black students.
Constance Lindsay, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at the School of Education at Chapel Hill, was also involved in the role model work. Lindsay has spent much of her career thinking about racist performance gaps and the specific policies and practices that could help close them. She said one of the political motives for focusing on black students in the study is that they have higher dropout rates and lower college attendance rates than their white counterparts. According to Lindsay, low-income black boys saw the biggest improvements in educational outcomes when they worked with a black teacher.
“We see big leaps for them, and there is a lot of social gain to be drawn from that,” said Lindsay. “There has been a lot of work on the cost-benefit ratio of intervening with children earlier than later in life. Hence, it makes sense to make some of these relatively inexpensive investments [Black boys’] Contact with black teachers. “
Lindsay and her team also looked at whether there were any advantages for white students compared to black teachers. They found that black teachers had little or no impact on the educational outcomes of white students, further demonstrating the impact of the role model effect on black students.
“Most white children are already attuned to their teacher,” said Lindsay. “This indicates that a stronger representation of black teachers in the workforce benefited the black children without having a negative impact on the white children we looked at.”
“You see me as an advocate for your success.”
Aaron Taylor is Black and a music teacher at a middle school in Erie, Pennsylvania. Neither of his parents graduated from college, and he didn’t always believe college was an option for him. But when he was growing up, music was his source of comfort.
“I always had a lot of energy and music was a way not only to calm the energy I had but to take it somewhere,” said Taylor, 26.
Starting in fifth grade, Taylor attended performing arts schools in Pittsburgh. It was during these years that he developed a close relationship with his African-American trombone teacher, Carl Jackson, who gave him important advice for his career towards the end of high school.
“It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that I sat down and talked to Mr. Jackson and told him I wanted to go to school to play music … and he said, have you ever thought about becoming a teacher?”
Inspired by Mr. Jackson, Taylor went to college to become a music teacher. In the middle school where he now teaches, only 11% of teachers are black, although almost half of the students. Taylor said that his color students depend on him in other ways and that he doesn’t want to let them down.
“They see me as a role model, they see me as an advocate for their success, they see me as someone who found a way when there was no way,” Taylor said.
In his classroom, he likes to create a sense of community that celebrates all cultural perspectives. Taylor starts each class with something called a ringtone, a song that is popular on the radio at all times. Sometimes it’s hip-hop, sometimes it’s pop. The ultimate goal, however, is to bring students’ interests into the classroom. 17 different languages and 25 different countries are represented at his school.
“I have classes where I talk about music from different parts of the world. For the students who come from those parts of the world, they can also offer a bit of their own authentic experience,” said Taylor.
The experiences of his students become a tool for teaching and learning. Lindsay from the UNC said it was effective.
“Instead of seeing what students bring to school from a deficit orientation, you are really looking at it from an asset-based orientation and trying to build on their culture rather than viewing it as outside of the mainstream,” Lindsay said.
Taylor recalls graduating from his Masters degree in 2018, and his school shared the news on their social account. Many of his students saw the announcement and flooded him with questions.
“They said, ‘Mr. Taylor, I heard you graduated, you finished something, what was it? ‘And that allowed me to start this conversation,’ he said.
For Taylor, every opportunity to stand in front of his students and teach is another chance to see what is possible for oneself.
“When you walk into a classroom where you feel wanted, wanted and respected, you feel part of it, part of the community.”