A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University and Stanford University indicate that systematic racial biases cause students of color to lose trust in school and thus avoid pursuing higher education opportunities.
The researchers studied the attitudes of both white students and students of color in middle school. They discovered over the course of the eight-year study that students of color were more likely to detect racial biases in school and therefore more likely to lose trust in the system. Researchers were able to validate minority students' belief that policies, such as disciplinary ones, were racially skewed.
"...researchers found that African American students reported more racial disparities than White students in decisions involving school discipline. School records confirmed this: Only minorities were disciplined for defiance and disobedience, not White students," said Phys.org.
"This suggests the possibility of bias: When teachers have to make a judgment call, minority students may be more likely to be disciplined than their White peers. Minority students notice this, Yeager says, and it undermines their trust in school."
Students who indicated they had lost trust in their school system by seventh grade were significantly less likely to attend a four-year college six years later, the study found.
On a positive note, the researchers found that when teachers were directed to provide their African American students with a show of respect, these students were more likely to attend college later. This simple display of respect was "a hand-written note on a first-draft essay encouraging them to meet a higher standard and implying that the teacher believed in them as they tried to do so," the article says.
Both trust and intervention only affected minority students' chances at going to college; the researchers speculate this is because white students experience group-based advantages that provide them with the perspective to see setbacks with teachers and school staff as minor life events.
Important to note when considering students of color and their trust in school systems, as well, is the fact that the teaching profession is growing increasingly less diverse despite the American population becoming more diverse. According to the latest U.S. Department of Education data, over 82 percent of educators in the U.S. identify as white.
"Improving teacher diversity can help all students. Teachers of color are positive role models for all students in breaking down negative stereotypes and preparing students to live and work in a multiracial society. A more diverse teacher workforce can also supplement training in the culturally sensitive teaching practices most effective with today's student populations," the Department says on the subject.
The researchers hope their study will encourage today's teachers to infuse empathy and respect into their classroom climate.
Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor