Seattle Times & NBC Coverage Of Teacher Predictions Study Stands Out

image from media1.s-nbcnews.com

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, using data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, found that white teachers are less likely than black teachers to think black students will succeed academically. Courtesy Johns Hopkins University

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 on whether they are black or white. 

The Seattle Times and NBC aren’t the only outlets to cover the report. Others include the Washington PostHuffPost, EdWeek, and The Atlantic. Other outlets that have covered the study include the Chicago Tribune, Fresno Bee, PBS NewsHour, Atlanta Blackstar.

The appeal of this new study isn’t hard to figure out, according to 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 (Large bias against black students surfaces in national study of teacher opinion) takes the form of a question and answer with report co-author Nicholas Papageorge and 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 version of the piece (White Teachers More Likely to Doubt Prospects of Black Students) explores Papageorge’s backstory as a privileged college graduate and how it connects to the new study, titled Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations. 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 this Atlantic example 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, and improving teacher diversity is not even the policy remedy that he and others recommend as the most 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 versions 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.

Related posts: Flawed EdCities “Equality” Report Coverage Highlights Importance Of Skepticism & ScrutinyShould Reporters Use Peer Reviewed Research More Frequently?

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.