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Unearned Praise Can Hurt Minority Students

Unearned Praise Can Hurt Minority StudentsSome public school teachers under-challenge minority students by giving them more positive feedback than they give to white students for the same work, according to a new study, which says that this creates a distinct learning disadvantage for minority students.

The study involved 113 white middle- and high school teachers in two public school districts in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area. One district was predominantly middle class and white, while the other was more working-class and racially mixed.

Researchers asked teachers to comment on a poorly written essay. Some teachers were told the student was black, others thought the student was Latino, while others thought the student was white. The teachers also were told their feedback would be sent directly to the student.

The study found that teachers displayed a “positive feedback bias,” providing more praise and less criticism if they thought the essay was written by a minority student than by a white student, reported Rutgers psychology professor Kent D. Harber, who led the study.

“Many minority students might not be getting input from instructors that stimulates intellectual growth and fosters achievement,” he said.

Harber said he believes the positive feedback bias might help explain the academic performance gap between minority students and white students.

Previous attempts to address this gap have considered inequalities in school funding, racism, and distrust of academia in some minority communities, the researcher said, noting that the nature of feedback from white teachers to minority students also should be considered.

The study’s findings could have implications not only for the educational system, but also businesses and other organizations where performance appraisals and feedback are tools for training and development, Harber added.

Source: Rutgers University

Unearned Praise Can Hurt Minority Students

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2015). Unearned Praise Can Hurt Minority Students. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 10, 2018, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
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