Researchers at Stanford University have confirmed what many Black parents have been insisting for a long time: That teachers are more likely to see black students as troublemakers, and that misperception influences their actions in the classroom.

Psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt and graduate student Jason Okonofua found that student misbehavior is viewed very differently based on the student’s race. “Teachers [in the study] felt more troubled by a second infraction they believed was committed by a black student rather than by a white student.”

Connecting the dots, the researchers also made this important observation:

As Okonofua said, ‘Most social relationships entail repeated encounters. Interactions between police officers and civilians, between employers and employees, between prison guards and prisoners all may be subject to the sort of stereotype escalation effect we have identified in our research.’

The evidence is mounting that race still matters more than some of us want to admit. Some educators cling to a self-delusion that they are colorblind and even-handed in how they respond to students. Others realize they have blindspots in their cultural understanding, but aren’t sure how to address them. The good news is that these attitudes and weaknesses can be changed, and more help is becoming available.

I’ve had the pleasure over recent months of working with one such attempt. The Teacher Leadership Initiative, a collaboration between Center for Teaching Quality, the National Education Association, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, includes a content strand on Social Justice. Also, every one of the standards for the National Board Certification in all 25 areas includes very strong descriptors of how teachers who seek to be accomplished in our practice should handle issues of diversity, equity, and cultural competence.

Also, more teacher preparation and professional development programs are including cultural competence and cultural proficiency as integral part of their offerings. While there is still much to be done, getting teachers to recognize and examine how our own beliefs affect what we do with, for, and to our students is a critical step.

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