In their book, “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning,” the authors describe the dilemma of identifying teacher excellence. They say that great teaching is readily apparent when you walk in a classroom, but how can that excellence be quantified? The authors evaluate research, describe its outcomes, and sometimes leave us with the uncertainty of “and yet….”
In yesterday’s post, I mentioned two factors that “conventional wisdom” suggests are critical: high expectations and minority teachers. Yet research does not support either factor as essential to student success. Teachers in high minority schools tend to express greater pessimism about their students’ potential (perhaps realistically, the authors note). Black and Hispanic students report higher rates than whites with regard to interest and attention exhibited by their teachers. They also gave higher scores than whites on questions about teacher behavior (Did they make learning fun? Were they excited about the subject they taught? Did they treat students with respect?). The authors concluded that students of color do not see low teacher expectations as a problem that affects their academic performance. And yet… the descriptions of schools in which the racial gap was reduced had unusually high standards and expectations.
And the importance of minority teachers? The authors studied research that examined whether black students learn more from black teachers. The short answer? No. And yet, one study provided slightly different results, so the authors suggest more research on this topic. What if a teacher’s race is a factor in student achievement? Sadly, the effect of our country’s racial gap in learning has created a very small pool of qualified minority college graduates; the pool shrinks further as few of those college graduates choose a teaching career.
My opinion? High expectations and quality teachers who reflect students’ race and ethnicity are very important in closing the achievement gap. The studies that measured teachers’ expectations used self-reporting surveys. I know teachers who publicly say they believe ALL kids can learn and yet they say something quite different with their behavior and private conversations. And why wouldn’t ALL our kids want to see brown faces doing more than sweeping floors and picking up trash? At any rate, as our nation goes gray and brown, we’ll be using the expression “minority” quite differently. That’s a whole other conversation, isn’t it?