Seth Gershenson’s research on the impact of teacher expectations and their effect on students has made waves across the country. With the support of the Fordham Institute, he recently published a new report on the positive effects greater numbers of Black teachers in charter schools (compared to the share of Black teachers in traditional public schools) have on Black students in North Carolina. Via email, Gershenson shared his thoughts on the most important findings and takeaways for parents and policymakers.
Why focus on North Carolina?
Two main reasons. The first is purely practical: I have used these data in previous research and the state makes these data available to researchers. Plus the data are high-quality in that they contain a treasure trove of information, the variables are fairly well-cleaned, standardized and contain student-teacher-school linkages.
The second is that North Carolina is a relatively diverse state in terms of student demographics and geography. Specifically relevant to a study of charter schools is that charter schools are located across the state, in urban, rural and suburban areas.
What did you find out?
Two results stick out to me. The first is that charter schools have a significantly higher share of Black teachers than the traditional public schools do, even though the share of Black students is about even in both types of schools. The second is that the race-match effect is about twice as large in charters as in traditional public schools.
How applicable are these findings beyond North Carolina?
This is an open—and debatable—question. The simple, and perhaps obvious, answer is “not perfectly.”
I have already heard from some researchers at Research for Action who show that the first result—that charters have a higher share of Black teachers than traditional public schools—does not hold true in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. So I hope this report motivates others to examine these questions in other settings. But I suspect that these results do carry over to at least some parts of the country.
That said, that these results are not perfectly representative of all jurisdictions does not invalidate the results in North Carolina; student populations and teacher labor markets are unique to time and place, so understanding how—and more importantly why—these differences exist and vary across states and cities is a crucial question for researchers, administrators and policymakers to consider.
Any thoughts about why the “race-match effect” is so much greater in charter schools than in traditional public schools for students from all backgrounds?
This is purely speculative, but I think it might have to do with the types of teachers who are drawn to the mission of specific charter schools. For example, “high expectations” teachers might be drawn to “high expectations” charters, and we already know that there is a race-match component to teachers’ expectations and their impacts on student outcomes.
Further, why is the “race-match effect” even greater for non-White students in charter schools? Or is this something we need further research to understand? How would you study it?
Similar in spirit to my previous answer, I think part of this has to do with the interaction between the teachers of color drawn to charters and their commitment to the charter’s mission. Though future research—specifically qualitative research—would be helpful here to really understand what is happening.
What’s the next step in research from here?
In addition to exploring these questions in other settings, it is also important to investigate long-run effects on outcomes such as high school and college graduation. And of course, ultimately it is critical that we better understand why such effects exist, so that we can improve teacher training and retention programs to improve the effectiveness of the teaching force, and specifically the teaching force with which students of color interact.
What do you think are the most important takeaways here for parents? For policymakers?
Parents, particularly parents of color, should consider the diversity of a schools’ teaching force along with other observable measures of school quality when selecting a school for their children and weighing the costs and benefits of enrolling in a charter school.
Similarly, policymakers and school leaders need to consider teacher diversity and racial representation for their student bodies as schooling inputs that matter, and that they have control over. Providing mentoring and support for teachers of color—who often pull double duty by serving as teachers and mentors themselves—need it.