April 20, 2015

Teachers more likely to label black students as troublemakers, study finds

The report below is a summary of research by two minority  psychologists, Eberhardt and Okonofua.  In the study, "Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students",  the authors tried to pin more frequent punishment of black students on inaccurate "stereotypes" held by teachers.

It is not completely clear what view of stereotyping that the authors adopt.  To be a bit paradoxical about it, stereotyping is often stereotyped. By that I mean that the old 1930s view of stereotypes as fixed, rigid and impermeable to evidence seems still to be widely held, even among psychologists, who should by now know better.  There is a massive body of research findings (a summary from some time ago here) to show that, among most people, stereotypes are the exact opposite of that -- i.e. they are highly and rapidly responsive to evidence and change readily as new evidence becomes available.  They tend to be valuable generalizations

There are of course some extremists who hold to their beliefs so rigidly that no evidence can dislodge the beliefs concerned.  A good example is the way committed Green/Leftists cling to their global warming beliefs, despite the only global temperature changes over the last 18 years being in hundredths of one degree Celsius -- change which is insignificant both statistically and in every other way.

At any event, the authors below were unable to exclude the very real possibility that blacks students simply behave more disruptively and are therefore seen accurately to be more likely to be a continuing problem.  Insofar as it is a stereotype, the stereotype could be an accurate one.

This is very naive research that proves nothing. The press release is here.  The journal article is: "Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students"

Teachers can judge the behaviour of black students more harshly than while pupils, new research has suggested.

A study by researchers at Stanford University examined the reaction of secondary and primary school teachers in the United States to student race.

They found that the teachers were more likely to view youngsters who they thought were black as troublemakers than those they thought were white.

The researchers say this may go someway towards explaining why black children are often disciplined more at schools compared to other pupils.

Professor Jennifer Eberhardt, a psychologist at Stanford University, said: 'The fact that black children are disproportionately disciplined in school is behind dispute.

'What is less clear is why. We see that stereotypes not only can be used to allow people to interpret a specific behavior in isolation, but also stereotypes can heighten our sensitivity to behavioral patterns across time.

In their study, which is published in the journal Psychological Science, Professor Eberhardt and her colleagues presented teachers with fictional school records.

These records described two instances of misbehaviour by a student. The teachers were asked about their perception of the severity, how irritated that misbehaviour would make them and how the student should be punished.

They were also asked whether they saw the student as a troublemaker and if they could imagine themselves suspending that pupil in the future.

The researchers randomly assigned names to the student records, in some cases suggesting the student was black with names like Deshawn or Darnell and in others suggesting they were white with names like Greg or Jake.

The researchers found that racial stereotypes had little impact on the teachers' views of the pupils after one infraction.

However, the second piece of misbehaviour was seen as 'more troubling' when committed by a black student rather than a white one.

The teachers also tended to want to discipline black students more harshly as they were more likely to see the misbehaviour as part of a pattern.

The researchers suggest that psychological interventions could be used to help change the stereotypes of black students influencing the way teachers treat pupils.


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