A study from the Johns Hopkins University and American University reveals that white teachers expect less academic success from black youths than their black teachers. The study found that a white teacher is 12 percent less likely to believe that the black student will finish high school and 30 percent less likely to believe that the student will complete a four-year college degree.

The study asserts that these low expectations can affect the students’ performance, especially those who do not have anyone to think otherwise. The researchers suggest that students actually perform better if the teacher expects good from them.

“If I’m a teacher and decide that a student isn’t any good, I may be communicating that to the student,” says Nicholas Papageorge, study’s co-author and an economist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University. “A teacher telling a student they’re not smart will weigh heavily on how that student feels about their future and perhaps the effort they put into doing well in school.”

Teacher expectations. Illustration by Nicholas Papageorge/Johns Hopkins University

Teacher expectations. Illustration by Nicholas Papageorge/Johns Hopkins University

The team investigated data from the ongoing study of 8,400 10th grade public school students, also called the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002. The survey inquired about the predictions of math or reading teachers of their students.

They found that white and non-black educators believe that black students would not graduate high school and college. Non-black teachers were five percent more likely to believe that black male students won’t graduate high school while they were 12 percent less likely to expect black students to finish a four-year degree.

White male teachers were 10 to 20 percent more likely to expect less from black female students. At the same time, math teachers also expect less from black female students.

However, black female teachers have more positive expectations on their black male students, thinking that they can finish high school and college and achieve academic success. The team also found that black students, especially black male students, refuse to enroll in a 10th grade subject taught by a non-black teacher.

The researchers believe that the same results could be found in the workplace.  Still, they plan to explore more about the impact racial bias has to help create policies that will solve the problem.

“While the evidence of systematic racial bias … is certainly troubling and provocative, they also raise a host of related policy-relevant questions that our research team plans to address in the near future … we are currently studying the impact of these biased expectations on students’ long-run outcomes, such as educational attainment, labour market success and interaction with the criminal justice system,” concludes co-author Seth Gershenson, an assistant professor of public policy at American University.