Greg Stanley/Johns Hopkins University

A new study co-authored by a Johns Hopkins University economist says that black students who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school and attend college.

The study, “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers,” is a new working paper published by the Institute of Labor Economics, and it demonstrates how the positive impacts of having just one of these teachers can continue over many years.

The study found that having at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced a black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent, and for very low-income black boys, their chances of dropping out fell by 39 percent.

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“Black students matched to black teachers have been shown to have higher test scores, but we wanted to know if these student-teacher racial matches had longer-lasting benefits. We found the answer is a resounding yes,” co-author Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins said. “We’re seeing spending just one year with a teacher of the same race can move the dial on one of the most frustratingly persistent gaps in educational attainment—that of low-income black boys. It not only moves the dial, it moves the dial in a powerful way.”

Researchers started out by studying 100,000 black students who entered third grade in North Carolina public schools between 2001 and 2005. Of that group, about 13 percent ended up dropping out of high school, and about half graduated but had no plans of attending college.

Low-income black students who were randomly assigned to at least one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade were not only less likely to drop out of school but were also 18 percent more likely to express interest in college when they graduated. Additionally, persistently low-income black boys who got free or reduced-price lunch at school and had at least one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade were 29 percent more likely to say they were considering college.

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The “race match effect” is sometimes called the “role model effect,” and it is why the researchers think a stint with a black teacher can be so lastingly beneficial for black students.

“If having a teacher with high expectations for you matters in high school, imagine how much it matters in the third grade,” Papageorge said. “Many of these kids can’t imagine being an educated person, and perhaps that’s because they’ve never seen one that looks like them. Then they get to spend a whole year with one. This one black teacher can change a student’s entire future outlook.”

The researchers hope to next study college-completion rates and income data to see if the benefits of teacher race matching last even longer.

Papageorge also hopes that school policymakers consider the impact that putting a student in a classroom with a teacher of the same race can have on the student’s success.

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“This isn’t a situation where students need two, three or four black teachers to make a difference. This could be implementable tomorrow,” Papageorge said. “You could literally go into a school right now and switch around the rosters so that every black child gets to face a black teacher.”