The differences between students of color and white students are endless. From historical inequalities in opportunity to the gentrification of school districts, it seems that the educational gap is irreconcilable. However, new research appears to uncover particular dynamics and strategies in student groups of color — particularly Latinx students — that could help narrow these gaps.
In new research published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Michael Gottfried, a professor in Penn GSE’s Education Policy division, along with J. Jacob Kirksey (Texas Tech University) and Tina L. Fletcher (University of Pennsylvania), concluded that Latinx students with Latinx teachers attend school more, a relationship that does not exist for white students.
The study emphasizes that the relationship only appears for unexcused absences, not excused absences.
“This is important for our modeling because excused absences signal health issues. But unexcused absences are about school engagement,” Gottfried explained. “These results also only emerged for 11th and 12th graders and are the strongest when students had a same-race teacher for the first period of the day. Gottfried hypothesizes that this same-race relationship could be “what motivates kids early in the morning to get to school.”
According to research by the U.S. Department of Education, over 6 million students missed 15 or more school days in 2013-14. This equates to one in every eight students or roughly 13 percent of the entire student population.
Chronically absent students (defined as missing more than 10 percent of the school year, or about two days per month) show a tendency to fall behind and, ultimately, drop out of school altogether.
What’s particularly troubling is the impact on ethnic minorities — in particular black and Latino students. More than a fifth of American Indian and Pacific Islander high school students are chronically absent, while 16 percent of black and 13 percent of Latinx students are affected.
For its part, Gottfried’s study used administrative data provided by a California high school district for school years 2014 to 2018 and explored student absenteeism at the date and class period level.
Three groups of students especially benefited from having a teacher of the same race: students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, immigrant students, and students who had been chronically absent the previous school year. Given that higher absenteeism is linked to what Gottfried, Kirksey, and Fletcher describe as “negative academic and developmental consequences,” increasing the number of teachers of color remains urgent for reducing differences in opportunity for Latinx students.
“I’m excited about this work because it addresses malleable ways to support students from diverse minority backgrounds at school — namely by showing the importance of a same-race/ethnicity teacher to boost importance student outcomes, like attendance,” shares Gottfried. “But more so, it also stresses the importance of diversifying the teaching workforce.”