Black and white teachers from HBCUs are better math instructors, study finds

Black elementary students in North Carolina tended to score higher on annual math tests when they were taught by an HBCU-trained teacher, but not necessarily a Black teacher, according to an unpublished study from a Stanford University graduate student. Credit: Cheryl Gerber for The Hechinger Report

A large body of research shows that Black students are likely to learn more when they are taught by a Black teacher. Quantitative researchers have found better results for Black students taught by Black teachers in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s one of the reasons that many education advocates have called for diversifying the teacher workforce, which is overwhelmingly white.

But a large study of a million elementary school students and nearly 35,000 teachers in North Carolina found that Black teachers aren’t always better for Black students. The race of the teacher didn’t affect the academic achievement of Black students in third through fifth grade across eight school years, from 2009-10 to 2017-18. Almost a quarter of the students were Black and they did just as well on their annual reading and math tests with a white teacher as they did with a Black one. 

Instead, what mattered was where a teacher went to college. Both Black and white teachers trained at an historically black college or university (HBCU) helped Black students do better in math. Almost one out of 10 teachers in North Carolina graduated from an HBCU. Though not a large number, a quarter of these HBCU-trained teachers were white. During a year that a Black elementary school student had one of these HBCU-trained teachers, his or her math scores were higher. In the following year, if their teacher was trained elsewhere, these same Black students tended to post lower math scores. 

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