Teach­ers tend to mon­i­tor black chil­dren more closely for mis­be­hav­ior

Chicago Sun-Times - - NATION - Greg Toppo @ gtoppo USA TO­DAY

Are teach­ers im­plic­itly bi­ased against African- Amer­i­can stu­dents — and African-Amer­i­can boys in par­tic­u­lar — as early as preschool?

A study, out Tues­day from the Yale Child Study Cen­ter, wades into this fraught ques­tion, look­ing at preschool teach­ers’ some­times un­con­scious at­ti­tudes about stu­dent be­hav­iors.

The find­ings sug­gest that teach­ers who care for very young chil­dren may judge those kids’ be­hav­iors dif­fer­ently based on race: both black and white teach­ers judge stu­dents of the other race more harshly once they know a thing or two about the stu­dent’s fam­ily lives, for in­stance. But one thing seems clear: both black and white teach­ers are watch­ing black stu­dents more closely for po­ten­tial mis­be­hav­ior.

“Im­plicit bias is like the wind — you can’t see it, but you can sure see its ef­fects,” said Yale’s Wal­ter Gil­liam, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of child psy­chi­a­try and psy­chol­ogy and the lead re­searcher on the study.

Gil­liam said the find­ings show that im­plicit bi­ases “do not be­gin with black men and po­lice. They be­gin with young black boys and their preschool teach­ers — if not ear­lier.”

For the study, Gil­liam’s team set up two ex­per­i­ments with teach­ers. In one, teach­ers were asked to watch videos of preschool­ers af­ter be­ing told they’d be wit­ness­ing “chal­leng­ing” stu­dent be­hav­iors— edu- jar­gon for mis­be­hav­ior. Then re­searchers tracked, among other mea­sures, where teach­ers’ eyes went.

“We told the teach­ers that we were in­ter­ested in learn­ing how quickly and ac­cu­rately they could de­tect chal­leng­ing be­hav­iors in preschool­ers,” Gil­liam told re­porters ear­lier this week. “What we did not tell the teach­ers was that the preschool­ers in the videos were all ac­tors as­sist­ing us in the study, and that no chal­leng­ing be­hav­iors were de­picted in the videos.”

Teach­ers watched a to­tal of 12 clips, each 30 sec­onds long, fea­tur­ing a black boy, a black girl, a white boy and a white girl. When primed to de­tect bad be­hav­ior, Gil­liam said, teach­ers gazed longer at the black chil­dren, es­pe­cially boys.

In a sec­ond ex­per­i­ment, teach­ers read de­scrip­tions of fic­tional mis­be­hav­ing preschool­ers, to which re­searchers had at­tached fic­ti­tious names based on 2011 U. S. Cen­sus data of the most pop­u­lar boys’ and girls’ names for both black chil­dren ( DeShawn and La­toya) and white chil­dren ( Jake and Emily).

When asked to rate the sever­ity of each child’s mis­be­hav­ior, teach­ers rated chil­dren with white- sound­ing names more se­verely.

Yet the find­ings sug­gest that ex­pec­ta­tions cut both ways. For in­stance, most teach­ers didn’t sug­gest sus­pen­sion or ex­pul­sion at higher rates for the mis­be­hav­ing black stu­dents — the only teach­ers who sug­gested firmer dis­ci­pline were them­selves black. These teach­ers be­lieved more strongly than their white co­work­ers that black stu­dents should be sus­pended for more days for mis­be­hav­ior.

Pre­vi­ous re­search go­ing back a decade or more— some of it by Gil­liam and other Yale re­searchers — has found that preschool dis­ci­pline can be harsh. A study from 2005 found that preschool boys were ex­pelled 4.5 times more of­ten than girls. Black stu­dents in state- funded prekinder­garten pro­grams were about twice as likely to be ex­pelled as white or Latino class­mates.

In the new study, re­searchers also ran­domly asked half of the teach­ers to read a brief para­graph de­tail­ing each fic­tional child’s home en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing de­scrip­tions such as “a largely ab­sent fa­ther, a mother who works three low­pay­ing jobs and strug­gles with de­pres­sion and doesn’t have the re­sources to seek help,” Gil­liam said.

Those brief de­scrip­tions had the op­po­site ef­fect on teach­ers based on their own race, Gil­liam said. When fam­ily back­ground in­for­ma­tion was with­held, white teach­ers rated white stu­dents’ be­hav­ior as “more se­vere” than black stu­dents’. But when pre­sented with the back­ground in­for­ma­tion, white teach­ers rated black and white stu­dents’ be­hav­ior as equally se­vere.

In other words, know­ing more about a stu­dent’s home life tended to equal­ize at­ti­tudes about how he or she should be­have.


A Yale study says teach­ers show bias as early as preschool.

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