Teachers more likely to see black students as ‘troublemakers’, study says

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Teachers judge black students’ misbehaviour more harshly than that of their white counterparts, according to research.

A study by Stanford University in the US found that teachers were likely to punish black students more harshly than their white peers after repeat offences.

Researchers from Stanford’s Department of Psychology said that although black children were more than three times as likely than white pupils to be suspended or expelled, the reasons for this were not clear.

“The fact that black children are disproportionately disciplined in school is beyond dispute,” Stanford psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt said in a statement. “What is less clear is why.”

The study, called Two Strikes: race and the disciplining of young students, found that teachers tended to make different judgements on student misbehaviour according to race.

The researchers gave primary and secondary school teachers in the US records describing two instances of misbehaviour by a student.

They asked how severe the misdemeanour was, how irritated they would be by it and whether they felt the student was a troublemaker.

The test was then repeated and the teachers were asked whether they thought it was part of a pattern and if they would suspend the student in the future.

The reports were randomly assigned names, suggesting whether a child was black, such as DeShawn or Darnell, or white, with names such as Greg or Jake.

The researchers found that the racial stereotypes affected teachers’ judgement not after the first misdemeanour but after the second.

Teachers were more likely to see black students’ misbehaviour as part of a pattern and were more likely to judge it harshly, the study said.

“We see that stereotypes not only can be used to allow people to interpret a specific behaviour in isolation, but also stereotypes can heighten our sensitivity to behavioral patterns across time. This pattern sensitivity is especially relevant in the schooling context,” Professor Eberhardt said.

The psychologists working on the study suggested that interventions with teaching staff could help to challenge the notion that student behaviour was fixed.

It is unclear what the racial makeup was of the teachers involved in the study.

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