A new study finds that having a black elementary school teacher can significantly impact the dropout rate of low-income black students. The study, co-authored by a Johns Hopkins University economist, found that the high school dropout rate is reduced by 29 percent for those students who have at least one black teacher in the third through fifth grades.
For very low-income black boys, the dropout rate decreased even further, and overall, those students were also more likely to consider college after high school. Researchers have long thought that the so-called “role model effect” can be a lasting benefit for black students. How does it affect their future earning potential?
Study co-author Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins explains that for African-American students, particularly low-income students, having at least one black teacher affects their expectations for their futures.
“Kids we’re seeing, especially those who are disadvantaged, don’t have role models that look like them and went to college, so they don’t think college is something for them,” Papageorge said.
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He said teacher expectations also affect a student’s chances of success.
“Teachers that have low expectations for students don’t put any effort into them, or they sort of move resources away from these kids,” Papageorge said.
Ashley Griffin at the nonprofit Education Trust said African-American teachers can plant a seed.
“Being beyond necessarily a bagger at a grocery store, owning the grocery store is something teachers talk about,” Griffin said.
Papageorge added that there’s a simple economic argument to be made.
“High school dropouts are really expensive,” Papageorge said. “They cost society a lot.”
One of the best ways to earn more money, he said, is to finish high school and go to college.
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