White Teachers’ Low Expectations Put Black Students at a Disadvantage

New research from professors at American University and Johns Hopkins University reveals what isn’t exactly news: that white teachers expect less of black students, putting white students at an advantage and disadvantaging black students.




The researchers analyzed data from the federal Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, which followed 10th-grade students for 10 years. Their analysis suggests that teacher expectations influence student outcomes.

Average Is No Victory


Reading the research, I was reminded of an article the president of A Better Chance, Sandra Timmons, recently shared on Black Enterprise. In it she writes:

While white students are encouraged to shoot for the stars, many students of color are given a far less inspiring goal: the 50th percentile. …

It is time for us to recognize that our efforts to advance education for students of color have been constrained by the implicit assumption that the best these students can hope for is to reach the mean. …

Discussions of race and education have for too long been premised on the idea that the best we can do is bring students of color up to the mean. This obscures a reality in which the best, most driven students of color have the potential to reach the same heights as students from all other races and socioeconomic backgrounds. If we want these students to believe in their own potential, then we need to provide them with a set of tools and pathways to high-quality educational opportunities that will allow them to reach it, rather than treating “average” as a victory.

In other words, it’s bad enough that white teachers have lower expectations of black students, but how much worse is it that the whole education system is set up for students of color to be “average.” This is not the education system of a meritocracy.

Policy Recommendations


The researchers write, “The negative bias is a relative one in that the black students do not receive the same positive bias, or benefit of the doubt, enjoyed by white students.” White teachers were much less likely to think that black students would go on to complete a college degree.

Most K-12 teachers are white women (and other studies have shown that race prejudice reaches down to preschool), and so the researchers’ first policy recommendation is to increase the diversity of the teaching force.

Their second recommendation is to make use of programs and trainings that teach empathy and cross-cultural understanding. Such interventions have been found effective.

For more, visit Education Next.