Black students who attend schools with a higher percentage of black teachers perceive school discipline as being more fair and tend to have a more positive attitude toward government institutions, according to a new study. This view extended to white students as well, who also perceived discipline as being more fair in schools with a higher rate of minority teachers.
The findings support the notion that schools with few or no minority teachers could benefit from hiring teachers that more closely match the demographic of their enrollment.
“Increasing the proportion of minority teachers in a school enhances all students’ perceptions of school discipline fairness,” said Don Haider-Markel, professor and chair of the University of Kansas (KU) Department of Political Science who was a co-author of the study.
“Our findings provide empirical support for the arguments of some political theorists that the legitimacy of public institutions is enhanced when those institutions are staffed by people who look like the population more generally.”
Public schools provide young people with their first real encounter of the government, and it is important to study these environments and their impact on perceptions. The importance is even greater in light of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, and New York after African-Americans were killed during encounters with police officers, Haider-Markel said.
Haider-Markel co-authored the study with University of Missouri professors Lael Keiser and Rajeev Darolia. They will present their findings in the paper “Race, Gender, and Symbolic Representation in American Schools” at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco.
Research has shown that black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled from school, and the protests earlier this year highlight unfair treatment of African-Americans within the criminal justice system, the high levels of distrust African-Americans have for police and political institutions in general and the lack of diversity in public institutions, the researchers said.
“Schools teach young people about democracy and being a citizen directly, but schools, through their treatment of students, also teach students how the government views them as citizens,” Haider-Markel said.
“So students who do not perceive fair treatment might take away the message that the government will not be fair or treat everyone equally.”
Belief in an unfair justice system might lay the foundation for making a young person less likely to participate in civil society through voting, attending public meetings, or other means, he said.
Other research has shown that increasing diversity in police departments enhances perceptions of fairness and legitimacy in how civilians evaluate police officers, but this is only part of the solution in enhancing policy and community relations, Haider-Markel said.
Furthermore, since white student perceptions of fairness did not decline in schools with more minority teachers, government agencies in general could presume that increasing employee diversity would not come at the cost of increasing negative perceptions by Caucasians, Haider-Markel said.
Source: University of Kansas