Researchers at Stanford University have found that the perceived race of students impacts how teachers respond to reports of misbehavior at school.
In a study titled “Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students” published April 9 in Psychological Science, researchers Jason Okonofua and Jennifer Eberhardt found that teachers reacted differently to school-discipline reports when the names attached were more commonly associated with black Americans (think: Darnell) than they did with names associated with white kids (“Jake” for example).
Okonofua and Eberhardt asked a racially diverse group of 250 primary and secondary teachers to look at reports of misbehavior and rate their personal reactions. The teachers exhibited no emotional differences when considering students who’d had one incident of misbehavior. But on the second infraction, teachers reported higher levels of being personally troubled by the report when the student had a name like “Darnell” or “Deshawn” than when the student had a name like “Greg” or “Jake.” They were also more likely to call for harsher punishment or to label the student with a “black-sounding” name as a troublemaker.
The study arrives amidst a robust national conversation on harsh school discipline and the uneven and widespread racial disparities in its application. As it is, black students are three times as likely as their white counterparts to be suspended or expelled, and while black students are just 17 percent of the national youth population they make up more than one-third of those who get suspended. The study gets at some of the potential underlying issues at play.
The study extends the work other researchers have done on how perceptions of race affect people in other realms. In a famous 2003 study, Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan found that when identical job applications were submitted to employers, some with names more commonly associated with black Americans like “Lakisha” and “Jamal” and others with names more commonly associated with white people like “Emily” and “Greg,” applicants with “white-sounding” names received more callbacks.