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Who Believes in Me: Report Reveals the Negative Impact of Student-Teacher Mismatches

By Kristin Decarr,

A recent report has detailed the effect that student-teacher demographic mismatches have on teacher expectations pertaining to how well students will perform in their classrooms.

The report, “Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations”, found that when black students are taught by a nonblack teacher, they are held to lower expectations than when taught by a black teacher.  These effects were found to be more significant for black male students and math teachers.

The findings are of particular importance as many times teachers play an important role in shaping how students look at themselves and how they feel concerning their educational abilities.  This is especially true among disadvantaged students who do not often interact with adults who have completed a college education other than during the school day.

Researchers also report that what teachers believe about their students affects actual educational outcome.  The report discusses an experiment carried out by Rosenthal and Jacobson in 1968 which looked at teachers’ beliefs concerning student ability and shaped those beliefs by offering false information pertaining to student performance on a test that was never taken.  Results of the experiment found that greater academic gains were made by students whose teachers falsely believed to be “growth spurters”.


Similar findings were discovered in an earlier report, as those students who were assigned a demographically mismatched teacher were more likely to be perceived by the teacher as disruptive, inattentive and less likely to complete homework assignments than when that student was assigned to a same-race or same-sex teacher.

The current report agreed with the findings, suggesting that nonblack teachers tend to hold lower educational expectations for black students than black teachers do, by 12 percentage points.

“Specifically, we find that nonblack teachers have significantly lower educational expectations for black students than do black teachers. For example, relative to teachers of the same race and sex as the student, other-race teachers were 12 percentage points less likely to expect black students to complete a four-year college degree. Such effects were even larger for other-race and other-sex teachers for black male students and for math teachers.”

The report suggests three ways in which teacher expectations could affect student outcome.  The first way is through stereotype threat, in which lessened expectations either produce emotional responses that cause lessened results, or causes students to disassociate with the school environment.  In addition, such expectations may cause students to change their own beliefs concerning their abilities.  Researchers state both of these cases result in a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

Lastly, researchers say evolving teacher beliefs could cause those teachers to change how they teach and evaluate their students.

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