A new study led by Dan Battey, an associate professor of mathematics education in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has found that White teachers in majority-Black classrooms have more negative, highly charged interactions with students regarding classroom behavior than White teachers in predominately White classrooms and Black teachers in predominately Black classrooms.
For the study, the research team compared student-teacher interactions from 25 middle school math classrooms with three different settings: a White teacher with mostly White students, a Black teacher with mostly Black students, and a White teacher with mostly Black students. The researches analyzed four videos of each teacher giving different lessons and examined the ways the teachers spoke to students and the kinds of classroom environments they created.
The results found that all teachers, regardless of race, more often reprimanded students than praised them. However, White teachers of Black students admonished students for misbehavior two to four times as frequently as teachers who were the same race as their students. Additionally, White teachers of Black students were more likely to have highly charged interactions with students instead of privately pulling students aside to have a conversation.
Black students who received this negative feedback performed worse than they had in the previous school year. One standard deviation increase in the number of negative interactions around behavior was associated with a 16 percent decrease in Black students’ achievement. Additionally, Black teachers were more likely to praise Black students’ capabilities than White teachers. The positive reinforcement was correlated with higher Black student achievement.
The researchers believe that their results show the need for White educators to be more reflective about their practice in majority-Black classrooms. The researchers suggest that teachers should handle behavior problems privately and respectively instead of yelling or removing students from the classroom. Additionally, the researchers suggest that White teachers be more intentional about finding moments to praise Black students on their abilities.
The study, “Racial (Mis)Match in Middle School Mathematics Classrooms: Relational Interactions as a Racialized Mechanism,” was published in a recent issue of the Harvard Educational Review. It may be accessed here.