Black high school students are more likely to enroll in advanced coursework when their schools employ at least one Black instructor to teach such classes, new research suggests.

Students of other races are also more likely to take advanced classes when they have the option to take one from a Black teacher.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that hints that greater representation by teachers of color can boost students’ academic success. In Washington, the number of teachers of color is growing, but there are still few of them in classrooms.

Black students aren’t any more likely to pass advanced classes when they had a Black instructor, the study found. But taking advanced classes can have long-term effects: enrollment in these classes is tied to a greater likelihood of graduating from high school and college, for instance. Taking an advanced course may also affect universities’ admissions decisions.

The study, published this month in the academic journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, relies on North Carolina data on teacher demographics, as well as information about students enrolled in high school between 2007 and 2013. The researchers controlled for a variety of factors, such as the types of advanced courses that Black teachers were more likely to teach. Although the findings are limited to one state, North Carolina’s Black teachers are underrepresented relative to the state’s Black students, which mirrors national trends.

The study didn’t examine the reasons why having a teacher of the same race affected Black students’ enrollment, but prior research offers some clues. For example, same-race teachers may be more likely to reach out to students of color and invite them to register for advanced classes. The effects may be more subtle: Students might notice a mentor who shares their cultural experiences, and be more likely to enroll if they sense that they’ll be supported.


In Washington, students of color make up nearly half the state’s public school population, state data from the 2018-19 school year shows. But roughly 12 percent of the state’s teachers are people of color.

As Seattle Times reporter Dahlia Bazzaz reported last March, progress to improve teacher diversity here is slow. Since 2012-13, the share of teachers of color has increased only 2 percentage points.

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