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New Study Reveals Racial Bias Affects Even the Earliest Learners

New Study Reveals Racial Bias Affects Even the Earliest Learners

A recent study from researchers at Yale University is revealing just how important improving diversity in the preK-12 profession is—inherent racial bias appears to be affecting the nation’s earliest learners.

Researchers from the Yale Child Study Center used sophisticated eye-tracking technology to determine how preschool teachers observe their students. They found that teachers—regardless of race—were most likely to observe black children as opposed to their white peers.

During the study, participants were asked to review 12 30-second clips of a mixed group of preschoolers interacting in the classroom. They were asked to respond when perceiving a potential problem with behavior.

"Deception was used to elicit participants’ unconscious behavioral tendencies and therefore potentially address implicit biases regarding sex and race of the child,” the study said.

The findings "'show a tendency to more closely observe black students, and especially boys, when challenging behaviors are expected,' the authors found,” according to a statement from the university.

The research was requested by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in part as an attempt to help explain why black children are disproportionately disciplined within the country’s school systems.

The researchers agree the study helps to determine why black children are disciplined more frequently than white children, and also indicates how important increasing diversity in the profession is.

”Findings . . . suggested that implicit biases may differ depending on teacher race. Providing family background information resulted in lowered severity ratings when teacher and child race matched, but resulted in increased severity ratings when their race did not match,” the study said.

In other words, teachers were more likely to express empathy for their students if they were of the same race. Experts agree how important empathy is as a teaching skill, with separate studies concluding that empathy training helps to significantly reduce both suspensions and expulsions.

In order to reduce bias in early education classrooms, the researchers recommend that early educators undergo increased training and on-going guidance.

'Fortunately, recent research suggests that implicit biases may be reduced through interventions designed to either address biases directly or increase teachers’ empathy for children. Useful guiding principles by which early educators may explore and discover their own implicit biases and strive to deliver more equitable services may also prove helpful,” the study says.

The researchers will be presenting their findings to federal and state officials today.

Read the full study here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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