Black and white teachers at HBCUs are better math teachers, study finds


The improvement in math achievement for a black student learning from an HBCU teacher was not very large, but it was often greater than the benefit of having a black teacher in previous studies. The increase in math test scores was about 5% of the typical score gap between black and white students. White and Hispanic students were not penalized; they did just as well with HBCU teachers as they did with non-HBCU teachers.

It should be noted that this benefit for HBCU teachers was only detected in math, not reading. Black children’s reading scores were not affected by their teacher’s race or college.

What exactly HBCUs are doing to build more effective math teachers is a great question, and Edmonds admits he doesn’t know the answer. There are 11 HBCUs in North Carolina and five of them, such as Fayetteville State University and Elizabeth City State University, produced most of the teachers for this particular study. Historically, many of the nation’s 100 HBCUs were founded as teacher training grounds or “Ordinaryschools. In North Carolina, half of all black teachers are from an HBCU.

At first glance, one might think that HBCUs produce lesser quality teachers. In this study, HBCU-trained teachers scored significantly lower on their teacher certification exams, called Praxis. “They clearly outperform more ‘qualified’ teachers,” Edmonds said. “At a minimum, it raises the question of what we’re measuring.”

Edmonds doubts that the pedagogical approaches to mathematics in HBCUs are radically different from those in other educational programs. “The general concept of addition is going to be more or less the same,” said Edmonds, himself a former high school math teacher.

Edmonds assumes that HBCU-trained teachers experienced a different culture and climate at the university that they replicate in their own classrooms. “A lot of my family members have been to HBCUs and a recurring theme is how they found it more welcoming,” he said. “They felt more at peace, more at home in an HBCU. Warmer, I would say. I think there is a component of that in how a teacher conveys information to a student. If you benefit more from this environment, yourself, as a student in these establishments, I think it makes a difference in your disposition as a teacher.

Of course, different types of people choose to attend an HBCU in the first place. HBCU students may have had pre-college life experiences that helped them connect better with black children in their professional lives. It’s possible that HBCUs don’t do anything magical at all, but the people who frequent them are special.

The race of teachers remains an important factor when it comes to student discipline. According to the study, black boys were more likely to be suspended with white teachers than with black teachers. But again, HBCU training makes a difference here too. Black boys were less likely to be suspended by a white teacher trained at HBCU than a white teacher trained elsewhere. (HBCU training did not make a difference to suspension rates for black girls.)

Given that the teaching profession is predominantly white – nearly 80% of teachers – it is encouraging to see a study that can perhaps shed light on how white teachers could become more effective with black students, even as we try to diversify the ranks.

Edmonds, who is black, says the purpose of his article is to help the field of education “think more deeply about teacher-student relationships” and what makes them work well in a way that can transcend the breed. “That’s not to say race isn’t important, but I think if we’re too dependent on those characteristics, it’s a slippery slope, I think, towards racial essentialism,” he said. .

HBCUs are clearly experiencing a renaissance. HBCU applications almost spiked 30 percent from 2018 to 2021 even as the total number of American undergraduate students fell by almost 10 percent during the pandemic. This study suggests another reason why HBCUs remain relevant and important.


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