Does Exposure to Teachers of the Same Race Affect Discipline?

by Cassandra M. D. Hart; Constance A. Lindsay

Jun 12, 2017

In this study, we analyze a unique set of student and teacher demographic and discipline data from North Carolina elementary schools to examine whether being matched to a same-race teacher affects the rate at which students receive detentions, are suspended, or are expelled. The data follow individual students over several years, enabling us to compare the disciplinary outcomes of students in years when they had a same-race teacher and in years when they did not.

We find consistent evidence that North Carolina students are less likely to be removed from school as punishment when they and their teachers are the same race. This effect is driven almost entirely by black students, especially black boys, who are markedly less likely to be subjected to exclusionary discipline when taught by black teachers. There is little evidence of any benefit for white students of being matched with white teachers.

Although these results are based on a single state, they should encourage efforts to promote greater diversity in the teaching workforce, which remains overwhelmingly white. In addition to offering more diverse role models at the front of the class, our findings suggest that employing more teachers of color could help minimize the chances that students of color, who trail their white peers in academic achievement, are also subjected to discipline that removes them from school.

  • Race and gender intersect in interesting ways in elementary schools. When a black male student has a black female teacher, his chances of being removed from school for a disciplinary infraction drop by 15 percent. When black male students are paired with black male educators, that reduction rose to 18 percent. Black female students are removed from school 10 percent less often when they are paired with black educators.
  • The authors do not observe any disciplinary advantages associated with matching white students to white teachers. White elementary-aged students face exclusionary forms of discipline less often when taught by a black educator. It is black female educators, not white educators, who hand out the lowest rates of exclusionary discipline to white students.
  • Reductions in the use of exclusionary school discipline can have a positive impact on educational student outcomes. Students who are suspended, even once, have a substantially higher chance of dropping out of school, developing truancy problems, and coming in contact with the juvenile justice system.
  • Lindsey and Hart find that black students who were taught by black teachers achieve at higher levels academically. The reading scores of elementary students rose when they were taught by black teachers.