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Race, ethnicity and culture
This study examines the relationship between county-level estimates of implicit racial bias and black-white test score gaps in U.S. schools. Data from over 1 million respondents from across the United States who completed an online version of the Race Implicit Association Test (IAT) were combined with data from the Stanford Education Data Archive covering over 300 million test scores from U.S. schoolchildren in grades 3 through 8. Two key findings emerged. First, in both bivariate and multivariate models, counties with higher levels of racial bias had larger black-white test score disparities. The magnitude of these associations were on par with other widely accepted predictors of racial test score gaps, including racial gaps in family income and racial gaps in single parenthood. Second, the observed relationship between collective rates of racial bias and racial test score gaps was explained by the fact that counties with higher rates of racial bias had schools that were characterized by more racial segregation and larger racial gaps in gifted and talented assignment as well as special education placement. This pattern is consistent with a theoretical model in which aggregate rates of racial bias affect educational opportunity through sorting mechanisms that operate both within and beyond schools.
A vast research literature documents racial bias in teachers’ evaluations of students. Theory suggests bias may be larger on grading scales with vague or overly-general criteria versus scales with clearly-specified criteria, raising the possibility that well-designed grading policies may mitigate bias. This study offers relevant evidence through a randomized web-based experiment with 1,549 teachers. On a vague grade-level evaluation scale, teachers rated a student writing sample lower when it was randomly signaled to have a Black author, versus a White author. However, there was no evidence of racial bias when teachers used a rubric with more clearly-defined evaluation criteria. Contrary to expectation, I found no evidence that the magnitude of grading bias depends on teachers’ implicit or explicit racial attitudes.
We study racial bias and the persistence of first impressions in the context of education. Teachers who begin their careers in classrooms with large black-white score gaps carry negative views into evaluations of future cohorts of black students. Our evidence is based on novel data on blind evaluations and non-blind public school teacher assessments of fourth and fifth graders in North Carolina. Negative first impressions lead teachers to be significantly less likely to over-rate but not more likely to under-rate black students’ math and reading skills relative to their white classmates. Teachers' perceptions are sensitive to the lowest-performing black students in early classrooms, but non-responsive to highest-performing ones. This is consistent with the operation of confirmatory biases. Since teacher expectations can shape grading patterns and sorting into academic tracks as well as students’ own beliefs and behaviors, these findings suggest that novice teacher initial experiences may contribute to the persistence of racial gaps in educational achievement and attainment.
The “achievement gap” has long dominated mainstream conversations about race and education. Some scholars warn that the discourse around racial gaps perpetuates stereotypes and promotes the adoption of deficit-based explanations that fail to appreciate the role of structural inequities. I investigate through three randomized experiments. Results indicate that a TV news story about racial achievement gaps (versus a control or counter-stereotypical video) led viewers to express more exaggerated stereotypes of Black Americans as lacking education (study 1: ES=.30 SD; study 2: ES=.38 SD) and may have increased viewers’ implicit stereotyping of Black students as less competent than White students (study 1: ES=.22 SD; study 2: ES=.12 SD, n.s.). The video did not affect viewers’ explicit competence-related racial stereotyping, the explanations they gave for achievement inequalities, or their prioritization of ending achievement inequalities. After two weeks, the effect on stereotype exaggeration faded. Future research should probe how we can most productively frame educational inequality by race.
Using detailed administrative data for public schools, we document racial and ethnic segregation at the classroom level in North Carolina, a state that has experienced a sharp increase in Hispanic enrollment. We decompose classroom-level segregation in counties into within-school and between-school components. We find that the within-school component accounted for a sizable share of total segregation in middle schools and high schools. Recognizing its importance could temper the praise for school assignment policies that reduce racial disparities between schools but allow large disparities within them. More generally, we observe between the two components a complementary relationship, with one component tending to be large when the other one is small. Comparing the degree of segregation for the state’s two largest racial/ethnic minority groups, we find that White/Hispanic segregation was more severe than White/Black segregation, particularly within schools. Analyzed as separate administrative units, schools with large shares of Black students tended to have more White/Black segregation across classrooms than schools with smaller shares. Finally, we examine enrollment patterns by course and show that school segregation brings with it differences by race and ethnicity in the courses that students take, with White students more likely to be enrolled in advanced classes.
Although qualitative research suggests that school choice and other interventions are more beneficial for moderately disadvantaged than severely deprived students, the subject has barely been explored by quantitative studies with either observational or experimental designs. We estimate experimentally the impact of a voucher offer on college attainment of poor minority students by household income and parental education. Estimates are obtained from a 1997 private, lottery-based voucher intervention in New York City. National Student Clearinghouse provided 2017 postsecondary outcomes. Positive impacts on moderately disadvantaged students do not extend to the severely deprived.
Nationwide, school principals are given wide discretion to use disciplinary tools like suspension and expulsion to create a safe learning environment. There is legitimate concern that this power can have negative consequences, particularly for the people who are excluded. This study uses linked disciplinary, education, and criminal justice records from 2008 to 2016 in North Carolina to examine the impact of principal-driven disciplinary decisions on middle school student outcomes. We find that principals who are more likely to remove students do appear to create safer schools through a reduction in minor student misconduct. However, this deterrence comes at a high cost – these harsher principals generate more juvenile justice complaints and reduce high school graduation rates for all students in their schools. Students who committed minor disciplinary infractions in a school with a harsh principal suffer declines in attendance and test scores. Revealed racial bias in principal disciplinary decisions incurs additional negative consequences specific to Black and Hispanic students.
Theory suggests that teachers’ implicit racial attitudes affect their students, but we lack large-scale evidence on US teachers’ implicit biases and their correlates. Using nationwide data from Project Implicit, we find that teachers’ implicit White/Black biases (as measured by the implicit association test) vary by teacher gender and race. Teachers’ adjusted bias levels are lower in counties with larger shares of Black students. In the aggregate, counties in which teachers hold higher levels of implicit and explicit racial bias have larger adjusted White/Black test score inequalities and White/Black suspension disparities.
America's decentralized system of public school governance is premised on the assumption that the interests of voters who elect school boards will be aligned with the educational needs of students. We explore the plausibility of this assumption by comparing the demographic characteristics of voters and students across four states. Using official voter turnout records and rich microtargeting data, we document considerable demographic differences between voters who participate in school board elections and the students attending the schools that boards oversee, suggesting that the assumption is unlikely to describe reality in many settings. For example, we show that most majority-nonwhite districts in our sample have a majority-white electorate and that these electoral disparities are associated with racial achievement gaps. Our novel analysis provides important political context for considering the electoral incentives facing school boards and how these incentives shape the quality of public education.
This study examines the extent and sources of the minority teacher shortage—the low proportion of minority teachers in comparison to the increasing numbers of minority students in the school system. Using the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey/Teacher Follow-Up Survey, we found that efforts over recent decades to recruit more minority teachers and place them in disadvantaged schools have been very successful. But these efforts have been undermined by the high turnover rates of minority teachers—largely because of poor working conditions in their schools. The conditions most strongly related to minority teacher turnover were the degree of teachers’ classroom autonomy and input into school decisions—both increasingly important when coupled with accountability pressures.