White teachers expect less academic success than black teachers expect from the same black student, according to a study conducted by researchers at John Hopkins University and American University.
“This problem is very real, very evident,” said Louis Castenell, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Georgia. “It’s demonstrated often in every school district we serveyed.”
According to the study, a white teacher is about 30 percent less likely to think the black student will graduate from a four-year college than a black teacher, and almost 40 percent less likely to think black students will graduate from high school.
Black female teachers are more optimistic about the ability of black boys to complete high school than teachers of any other demographic. Researchers found white and other non-black teachers were 12 percent more likely than black teachers to predict black students would not finish high school, with black males receiving harsher criticism.
“Lots of research has been done on this and there is overwhelming evidence that this is absolutely true,” Castenell said. “Many white teachers have shared the view that minority kids, particularly brown and black kids, are less motivated to be academically successful.”
The lower expectations for black students may play a role in the lower graduation rates for black students.
“In my high school in Pennsylvania, I was the only black person in the running for Valedictorian. Both teachers and students were shocked to see that I was in the running,” said Shannon Harris, a sophomore from Philadelphia. “They said things like they would never expect for someone like me to be smart.”
Castenell said based on his research of student-teacher relationships, teachers who do not have confidence in a student’s success typically have low self-esteem in their ability to teach.
“These teachers with low self-esteem project that in their academic expectations of these kids,” he said.
Sarah Warui said she has seen this behavior from professors in her classes at UGA.
“I’ve definitely observed plenty of racially prejudiced behavior toward black students, mainly black males, by my teachers,” the freshman from Atlanta said. “At UGA alone, one of my professors always singles out the two black male students in my class.”
Jim Garrett, a professor in the College of Education, said he believes some teachers do not have high expectations, or lack respect for minority students, because of ideas Americans grow up with about African Americans.
“Somehow we have to learn to educate people about the things they think they know. And it’s not just in schools, it’s within the system,” Garrett said. “These lower expectations of African Americans become unconscious.”
Diversity in educators
Quinton Blount, a sophomore chemistry major from Riverdale, said he has only had one African-American professor since starting at UGA. About 6 percent of faculty at UGA is African American. Close to 82 percent of public-school teachers are white, according to a 2012 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. However, according to 2011 data from the same organization, more than 48 percent of students in public elementary and secondary schools aren’t white.
“I think I probably would have connected more if more of my teachers had been African Americans,” Blount said.
Brittany Sears, a sophomore finance major, said she has noticed how few black professors there are at UGA compared to the large number of black staff in service and maintenance jobs.
Close to 78 percent of faculty at UGA are white, according to 2015 data from the UGA factbook. While only 5.9 percent of professional faculty are black, 47.7 percent of service and maintenance staff are black.
“I truly feel that UGA can do a better job in hiring black faculty and staff,” Sears said. “I think that says a lot not only to UGA, but also to how black people are still marginalized in all aspects.”
Though the lack of diversity among educators proves to be a problem, the system itself may have other flaws.
“I think [increasing diversity in teachers] would be helpful. But that’s not enough,” Castenell said. “We just need to do a better job in teacher education and exposing our students to a variety of classes.”
The biggest problem for minorities in the education system is access to information, Castenell said. Black students generally don’t have equal opportunities or resources to higher education as their white counterparts, he said. In addition, African-American students are more likely to attend high-poverty schools and therefore have limited access to resources and advanced placement classes. In a previous article, The Red & Black found that some goals of UGA’s five-year diversity plan have been successful, while others have not, as shown by the small growth in the percentage of black students. In 10 years UGA, has only seen a growth of 2.98 percent of black students.
“Not many inner-city schools can be competitive ... because they just don’t have the resources to teach their kids, the [Advanced Placement] classes and things of that nature,” Jamari Jordan, a senior mass media arts major from Stone Mountain, said in the previous Red & Black article.
Castenell said even in affluent areas, oftentimes minorities are forgotten. Fewer minorities are recommended for advanced classes, even if they are offered, and still lack resources in the places where they should have access.
“I think it is possible to break the cycle,” Castenell said. “But what troubles me is there is a real reluctance to discuss what really goes on in schools.”
In order to change the stigma of lower expectations, reform first needs to come from the teachers and how the teachers are trained, he said.
“I think we need to do a better job in teacher education. Quite frankly, we don’t treat the training of teachers as importantly as we should,” Castenell said.
In his book, “Young, Triumphant, and Black: Overcoming Segregated Minds in Desegregated Schools,” Tarek Grantham, a UGA professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, wrote about the struggles facing black students in which he called for a change from deficit to dynamic thinking where the negative views about minority students are replaced with high expectations of success.
In Grantham’s book, he found that if professors treat black students with respect, maintain high expectations for all students and listen to what they have to say, professors can help these students succeed. Castenell said creating more of a mentor-mentee relationship between teachers and students instead of just the typical classroom setting could help avoid the issue of lower expectations.