Study: Teachers go soft on minority students’ work

After reading a poorly written essay, teachers offered comments and advice. Those who thought the writer was black or Latino provided more praise and less criticism, according to a Rutgers study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology (JEP), reports Science Daily.

(The study) involved 113 white middle school and high school teachers in two public school districts located in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area, one middle class and white, and the other more working class and racially mixed.

“Many minority students might not be getting input from instructors that stimulates intellectual growth and fosters achievement,” said Kent Harber, Rutgers-Newark psychology professor.

George W. Bush called it “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

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  1. And when the teachers do grade them with the same critiques, and give them the same grades, the press will faithfully report (and you will faithfully link) that white teachers give minority students lower grades.

  2. I agree with Cal. It’s a no-win situation. (And an example of how broken our society still is.)

  3. SuperSub says:

    Its not the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” at least among the individual teachers, but instead the sharp fear of being considered a racist.

  4. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    It’s pandering to the lowest common denominator and pandering is always wrong. Double standards are wrong, period, whether one is a so-called ‘minority’ or not. SuperSub is correct on both counts–it’s BOTH the soft bigotry of low expectations AND fear of being branded a ‘racist’ or some other convenient epithet, ie. ‘sexist’, ‘xenophobe’, ‘homophobe’, ‘Islamophobe’, ‘bigot’, ad nauseum. The late Allan Bloom correctly pegged the dawning of the age of Political Correctness. MLK Jr. turns in his grave–color of skin?–ethnic/racial DNA? or “Content of Character’ ? What should matter most when it comes to any student? Shouldn’t academic standards be color-blind, lest we engage in the worst kind of paternalism? Nothing is more disgusting than the ‘guilty ;white’ liberal (Leftist today) or racial huckster pandering, which is akin to treating ‘minorities’ as needing THEIR help. Hard work, respect for self and others, intellectual curiosity, delayed gratification and perseverance are UNIVERSAL VALUES that have to be inculcated from a young age–there are people of all races and ethnicities who exemplify them, and people of all races and ethnicities who do not. Standards should never be lowered to pander–rather, people should aspire to live UP to those values, and a good teacher creates a classroom based on those values.

    Since the Great Society era, Leftist policies and programs have invaded, pervaded, degraded and finally, decimated, Academia in the U.S., from K to College. The road to Hell is often paved with good intentions.

    • Shouldn’t academic standards be color-blind, lest we engage in the worst kind of paternalism?

      But that has disparate impact, and we just can’t have that!  We just can’t!

      (The fact that we cannot even acknowledge the jaw-dropping insanity of the Griggs decision shows that we’re not fixing it any time soon, either.)

  5. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to give students praise. Actually, suggestions for praise could be just as important as criticism. When a teacher praises a student, the teacher tells the student what he/she did well. Thus, that student will continue to exhibit that performance so long as it is supported. Too much criticism would make a student feel worthless and helpless. At the same time, no student is perfect, so there will always be room for criticism. So, there should definitely be a balance.

    But, what is that balance? How do you know whether a student has received too much praise or too little criticism? I have no idea. I would be intrigued to hear someone make that clarification.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “But, what is that balance? How do you know whether a student has received too much praise or too little criticism?”

      I think the point of the article is that *wherever* the graders struck a different balance for the (perceived to be) white students than for the (perceived to be) black and Latino students. When the graders didn’t know anything about the students except for the ethnicity.

      Unless there is some reason to believe that black and Latino students perform better with more-praise/less-criticism than white students (and vice versa), this difference is odd.

  6. Unfortunately, I could not get access to the original article without purchasing it for $11.95. As a a physicist who has, from time to time, looked at social science articles, I am incredibly skeptical of the results without knowing the correlation coefficient and error estimates. The simple fact of the the matter is that in the vast, vast majority of social science research, the correlations/results are barely statistically significant and the correlations are very weak. Yet, when they advertise/publicize their results, they often imply that the results are incredibly strong and robust.

    I might believe a tiny effect, in this case, but this article is implying a large, statistical significant result, and yet the abstract fail to mention error bars or statistical measures (a definite no no in physical science papers).

  7. Mark Roulo says:


    The article claims 1 essay and 113 graders.

    It *seems* unlikely that the results could be significant. For example, *if* the essay subject was one that lots of graders would expect black and Latino students to know less about than whites, then different praise/criticism ratios might not mean much.

    Then there is the straight statistically significant math question.

    Then we might ask if the graders are representative …

  8. Richard Aubrey says:


    Representative of what/whom? If they’re a bunch off the street demonstrably taking it easy on minority students’ work, that still tells us something about society in general. But the implication of the question is that teachers don’t take it easy.
    Then, if society in the aggregate takes it easy,generically speaking, then we have a problem. We also have a problem if teachers do. We also have a different problem–as in whoyoukidding–if we insist that society in the aggregate does but teachers don’t.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “Representative of what/whom?”

      Representative of the population of teachers in the US as a whole. The article claims that the graders were

      113 white middle school and high school teachers in two public school districts located in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area, one middle class and white, and the other more working class and racially mixed

      So we have no teachers from outside the tri-state area (so none from the South, none from the Mid-West, etc). If one were sampling for anything *NOT* regional, this is not the sampling one would do. For example, if you were interested in K-12 obesity for the country as a whole, you would not measure just kids in the tri-state area. Same for reading achievement. Same for interest in lacrosse.

      The sample is *NOT* representative of the US as a whole. It might not even be representative of the tri-state area as a whole (no slum schools, unless “working class” is a euphemism for slum).

      If the sample isn’t representative of the population you care about, you can’t draw any statistically valid conclusions.

      [NOTE: My bias is that the study reaches the correct conclusion ... but that doesn't mean that the study provides the data to reach that conclusion]

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mark. I get the restricted area from which the sample was drawn. And, as good science, it ought to be expanded.
    However, intuitively (lots of intuitive stuff turns out to be wrong, admittedly) the idea that the restricted area is not representative is tough to buy. Consider the area is restricted, but we don’t know that the teachers’ backgrounds are. My daughter grew up in a midwestern suburb of a medium sized city, went to Mich State, taught HS in Needles, CA and is now in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Her colleagues are from Texas and Illinois, etc. My DIL had the same background and taught first in a Memphis suburb. I have a niece who went to U-Mich, then was in SF, on the West Coast version of The Street for five years, changed careers and went to teach in Fayetteville, now moving to Beaufort. Another niece, same background, has been in the LAUSD spec ed for ten years.
    For practical purposes, the pot has been stirred sufficiently to make the restricted area for the sample less of a concern.
    Now, of course, if we didn’t have AA, the study’s conclusion might be surprising.