Kudos to the Seattle Times’ Claudio Rowe and NBC’s Sylvia Cunningham for their coverage of a recent
Johns Hopkins study on differences in teachers’ expectations of students depending on whether they are black or white. The Seattle Times and NBC aren’t the only outlets to cover the report. Others include the
The Atlantic. Other outlets that have covered the study include the Chicago Tribune, Fresno Bee, PBS NewsHour and Atlanta Blackstar. The appeal of this new study isn’t hard to figure out, according to report co-author Nicholas Papageorge. “The work I’ve done before might have been more provocative but it takes a lot longer to explain,” he said via telephone not too long ago. “This one’s different. I can call my mom and tell her a couple of numbers.” Awareness of the prevalence of bias, the challenges and opportunities of student diversity, and the disparate outcomes of the current educational system are all on the rise. The Seattle Times
version of the story put the report’s findings this way:
When looking at the same students, teachers of differing backgrounds have vastly different expectations, and new research from Johns Hopkins University suggests that this is no fluke or quirk, but a deeply ingrained problem with profound economic implications.
The NBC News
story explores Papageorge’s backstory as a privileged college graduate and how it connects to the new study. The piece also makes clear that the study doesn’t tell us which teachers are more accurate in their predictions, or whether the teachers’ expectations have any effect on the students’ outcomes. Not all coverage is created equal, however. Some of the pieces, like the Atlantic,
seem to conclude that teacher diversity is the obvious or central problem that the report addresses. But that’s not what the report finds, according to Papageorge—improving teacher diversity is not even the policy remedy that he and others recommend as the best course of action. “I never said that. I’m not against it, but I’m pretty skeptical about its practicality.” His view is that anti-bias training is a more practical and effective remedy for subtle but widespread bias. Other news outlets focus on the
possible impact of teacher expectations on student achievement, even though that’s not something that’s addressed in the report findings. The Atlanta Blackstar went so far as to claim that
lower expectations were the cause of lower achievement in the story headline. The impact of expectations on student achievement is one possible explanation but it’s speculative at this point, according to Papageorge. A forthcoming study will attempt to tease out the impact of teacher expectations.
An original version of this post appeared on Washington Monthly's The Grade.