When School Leaders Are African American, Black Teachers and Students Benefit

Numerous studies have proven that African American students do better in school when their teachers share their racial identity. Until recently, however, the impact of Black leadership in schools has been given far less attention.

Last month, researchers at Vanderbilt University published a working paper on this topic, having conducted a longitudinal study of school personnel records in Missouri and Tennessee.

They found that Black and White principals in these states tend to hire teachers who share their own racial identity. Schools with African American principals are five to seven percent more likely to hire Black teachers, according to the paper. White principals are also more likely to hire a higher percentage of White teachers.

In addition, researchers found that retention rates are higher for teachers who share their principal’s racial identity. Black teachers at schools where the lead administrator was also African American were two to five percent less likely to transfer to another school, for example.

The study’s authors argue that “taste-based bias,” or a strong preference for working with someone of the same race, does not account for the hiring tendencies of the principals in the study. Rather, they suggest that these leaders tend to draw on their own professional networks when hiring new teachers and that these networks, like many schools, may be highly segregated.

In terms of reduced turnover, the researchers propose that shared “backgrounds, communication styles, and values” allow principals and teachers of the same race to “work together more productively, which may increase a teacher’s commitment [to their school.]”

Finally, the paper states that the presence of an African American principal as a leader and role model has a positive effect on Black students. This is in addition to the positive impact of having more Black teachers.

Based on these results, the authors encourage schools to hire more leaders of color if they want to improve recruitment and retention of underrepresented educators and foster higher achievement among students who come from underrepresented racial groups. These administrators and teachers also have the potential to confer unique benefits on White students by preparing them to live and work productively with those from other racial groups and to counteract their exposure to racial bias, researchers say.