Bias in the Air: A Nationwide Exploration of Teachers’ Implicit Racial Attitudes Aggregate Bias, and Student Outcomes

Research Rundown Issue: May '21
Publisher: Educational Researcher
Date Published: July '20


In one of the first studies to try and quantitatively examine the relationship between bias and student outcomes, researchers used nationwide data and found that teachers’ implicit white/Black biases—as measured by the implicit bias association test—vary by the gender and race of the teacher. More specifically, teachers of color have lower levels of pro-white/anti-Black bias than white teachers, with Black teachers having the lowest levels of anti-black bias. A positive finding was that teachers with lower anti-Black bias are more likely to work in counties with more black students. However, in counties where teachers have more pro-white/anti-Black bias there were larger achievement gaps and suspension rates between Black and white students. While researchers noted that stronger causal evidence is needed before drawing firm conclusions, they also provided some recommendations around district hiring practices that aim to increase the racial diversity of teachers and school leaders as well as providing support to white teachers so they can identify their biases and improve their practice.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

All teachers bring implicit biases into the classroom, but the impact can be mitigated when educators work to identify, unpack, and address them. When that doesn’t happen, it can drive discipline disparities and has an impact on student achievement and engagement. In a state where 95% of the teaching workforce is white, this puts students of color—particularly Black students—at a disadvantage. The Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) is currently working on updating the Standards of Effective Practice—the common set of knowledge and skills all teacher candidates learn in prep—and has included standards that would ensure teacher candidates are learning about reflecting on their own practices and then changing practice accordingly.

While this work happens, we must also be working to racially diversify the teacher workforce. Both the House and Senate education omnibus bills have the same language on a number of provisions—Grow Your Own Programs and Come Teach in Minnesota grants—that are aimed at increasing teachers of color, but with negotiations ongoing, it is unclear what might advance into law.

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