Johns Hopkins research underscores impact of black teachers on black students

Black elementary school students who have black teachers are significantly more likely to enroll in college, according to a research paper co-authored by a Johns Hopkins University professor.

A working paper published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that black students who have one black teacher by third grade are 13 percent more likely to enroll in college — and those who have two are 32 percent more likely.


The findings build on previous research that has found black students are much more likely to graduate from high school if they see a black person at the front of their classroom. Having at least one black teacher in elementary school, the previous research showed, reduced low-income black students’ probability of dropping out by 29 percent — and 39 percent for very low-income black boys.

Hopkins economics professor and study co-author Nicholas Papageorge said this growing body of research shows how vital it is for students to have role models who resemble them.


Black educators also can tap into their lived experiences when teaching, he said, in some cases allowing them to connect more deeply with African-American parents and students through a “hidden curriculum.”

Black teachers show black children that “college is something I can strive for because I’ve seen a college grad who looks like me,” Papageorge said.

Black teachers remain scarce in the United States despite the mounting evidence showing the benefits they have on African-American children. Nationwide, about 7 percent of public school teachers are black.

In Baltimore, a district where African-American children made up roughly 80 percent of the student body last year, only about 40 percent of its roughly 4,900 teachers were black.

The numbers are similarly bleak across Central Maryland. In Carroll County, 1 percent of teachers are African-American. In Harford County, 3.7 percent are. About 7 percent of Anne Arundel teachers are black, and about 10 percent of Howard County teachers are. Even in Baltimore County, where the black student population sits at about 40 percent, just one in 10 teachers is black.

Papageorge said the nation must reckon with its black teacher pipeline problem.

“People always say, ‘Well, let’s hire more black teachers,’” he said. “Where are you going to find all these black teachers?”

In Maryland, just 542 minority candidates graduated from approved educator certification programs in 2015, according to the state education department’s latest teaching staff report. While that number is higher than in previous years, experts say it doesn’t come close to meeting the need.


For at least the foreseeable future, Papageorge said, school systems must grapple with the fact that their teaching forces will remain mostly white and female. Those teachers must be educated about implicit bias, taught to be culturally competent and shown how not to exacerbate achievement gaps.

“We have to think about things we can take to the white teaching workforce and leverage the lessons we’re learning,” he said.