The Impact of White Teachers on the Academic Achievement of Black Students: An Exploratory Qualitative Analysis

By Douglas, Bruce; Lewis, Chance W. et al. | Educational Foundations, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

The Impact of White Teachers on the Academic Achievement of Black Students: An Exploratory Qualitative Analysis


Douglas, Bruce, Lewis, Chance W., Douglas, Adrian, Scott, Malcolm Earl, Garrison-Wade, Dorothy, Educational Foundations


The social structures that exist in the American educational system consist of students and educators (e.g., teachers and administrators). Based on the roles assigned to these individuals in the educational system of the United States, students are dependent persons, and educators are independent persons. The system creates expectations and evaluates outcomes based upon ideas, beliefs, and values generally accepted by the dominant culture of the school. As the United States of America progresses further into the 21st century, student populations are increasingly made up of greater proportions of Black students (Lewis, 2006). In these school systems, students of color, particularly in urban settings, represent the majority student populations (Lewis, Hancock, James, & Larke, in press). Interestingly, the educators--teachers and administrators--that comprise these settings are predominately White, and, in turn, the students of color commonly face pressures that students who do not share the racial and cultural background of the educators do not (Landsman & Lewis, 2006).

More than any other time in U.S. history, Black students are being educated by people who are not of their racial or cultural background. Research (Lewis, 2006; U.S. Department of Education, 2004) reports that almost 87% of the United States elementary and secondary teachers are White, while only eight percent (8%) of those teachers are Black. The discussion about the lack of academic success of Black students often leads to consideration of factors external to schools, such as: (a) Black students' academic performance; (b) inadequate academic preparation; and (c) lack of family support for Black students. Given that a significant number of Black students in America's public schools are largely educated by White teachers (Landsman & Lewis, 2006), there is a pressing need to know more about the impact that White teachers have on Black students' school outcomes (e.g., academic achievement).

Critical Analysis of Education for Black Students

White Teachers and Black Students

There are marked disparities in the outcomes of education for Black and White students. In its 2004 report, the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) noted that Black students do not achieve as well in school as White students. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2004) reported that Black students continue to trail White students with respect to educational access, achievement, and attainment. The report from the NCES does not discuss who is teaching Black students or whether these teachers are prepared to teach Black students effectively (Lewis, 2006). Research on effective teachers of Black students emphasizes, among other things, the teachers' collective belief that Black students' potential will not be realized in classrooms where teachers view Black students from a deficit perspective (King, 1994; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Lewis, Hancock, James, & Larke, in press; Mitchell, 1998; Quiocho & Rios, 2000). Most often associated with White teachers, this approach does not assume Black students' potential but aims to compensate for what is presumed missing from the student's backgrounds (Foorman, Francis, & Fletcher, 1998). Because a deficit model of instruction attempts to make students fit into the existing system of teaching and learning, the model cannot build on the strengths of cultural characteristics or cultural preferences in learning (Lewis, Hancock, James, & Larke, in press).

The discussion about the lack of academic success of Black students tends to lead to discussions about factors external to schools, such as Black students' performance and inadequate preparation as well as lack of family support for Black students. According to Ayers (1995) and Kohl (1998), little is known about the effectiveness of White teachers with Black student achievement. Because an underlying tenet of multicultural education is that all students benefit from information about or models of persons with similar racial and cultural backgrounds (Manning & Baruth, 2004), the lack of knowledge about this concept consistently undermines the efforts of teacher education programs across the country to adequately prepare White teacher education students as future teachers of Black students. …

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