More support and training is needed to help educators combat racial bias, research finds
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More support and training is needed to help educators combat racial bias, research finds

by Freya Lucas

June 04, 2020

Educators are just as likely to have racial biases as non-educators, and more support and training for educators is needed to mitigate these, US researchers have found


The researchers challenged the notion that those working in education “might be uniquely equipped to instill positive racial attitudes in children or bring about racial justice”, without additional support or training. 


Instead, researchers said, educators, as with all people “hold almost as much pro-White racial bias as non-teachers of the same race, level of education, age, gender, and political affiliation.”


The results, published in Educational Researcher (ER), a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, came from the analysis of two studies measuring the explicit and implicit biases of American adults by occupation. The results are the first that the authors are aware of that use national data to compare teachers’ and non-teachers’ levels of implicit, or unconscious, racial bias.


While American in context, the results will be of interest to the Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) community not only to provide a deeper understanding of the current tensions being played out in the United States, but also as the country ends National Reconciliation Week, and reflects more deeply on the barriers that persist in Australia for First Nations children and families. 


One researcher, Natasha Warikoo said that while educators may be well intentioned, they likely harbor biases that they are “not entirely conscious of, potentially limiting their capacity to facilitate racial equity.” 

If educators are expected to promote racial equality, they need support and training “to either shift or mitigate the effects of their own racial biases” Dr Warikoo said. 

The article drew from two complementary national datasets: Project Implicit, which is a large, non-representative sample, and the 2008 wave of the American National Election Studies (ANES), which is a smaller but nationally representative sample. From Project Implicit, the authors used data on 1.6 million respondents, including 68,930 who self-identified as K-12 instructors, from 2006 to 2017. The ANES dataset used by the authors included a total sample 1,984 respondents, including 63 preK-12 teachers.


Examining the first dataset, Dr Warikoo and her co authors analysed data from a Black-White Implicit Association Test used to evaluate people’s implicit bias. The test measures how quickly and accurately respondents pair White faces with “good” words and Black faces with “bad” words in comparison to the inverse. 


The test scores reflect respondents’ pro-White/anti-Black or Pro-black/anti-White biases. The authors’ findings from this dataset indicated that PreK-12 teachers and other adults with similar characteristics both exhibited a significant amount of pro-White/anti-Black implicit bias. Seventy-seven per cent of teachers demonstrated implicit bias, compared to 77.1 per cent of non-teachers.


To measure explicit bias, the authors subtracted participants’ reported warmth towards Black people from their reported warmth toward White people. The results showed that 30.3 per cent of the teachers had explicit bias, compared to 30.4 per cent of the non-teachers.


To validate the findings from the first study in a nationally representative sample, the authors analysed a second dataset, from a survey in which adults throughout the U.S., both teachers and non-teachers, were asked to judge Chinese characters as “pleasant” or “unpleasant” after being shown pictures of a Black or White young adult face. As in the first study, authors found no significant association between occupation and level of bias: teachers held the same levels of implicit and explicit bias as non-teachers.

Overall, Dr Warikoo said, the findings suggest that education and care settings are best viewed as “microcosms of society rather than as antidotes to inequality.” 

“Teachers are people too. Like all of us, they need support in combating their biases. We shouldn’t assume that good intentions and care for all students make a teacher bias free.”


In terms of addressing the findings, the authors suggest that strategies that encourage educators to pause and reconsider their decisions in critical moments can reduce racial disparities. 


For example, one intervention that provides a 45-minute training session in a variety of prejudice-reduction techniques, such as imagining stereotype-challenging examples, can reduce implicit bias levels over two months.


To read the research in full, please see here

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