Student-Faculty Race Match Effect on Student Achievement

Abstract: Previous race match studies show that shrinking the disparity in the racial distribution of teachers is an important factor. However, this does not necessarily mean that all minority students need to have a minority teacher. I find that other faculty members have a significant impact as well which implies that diversifying the people surrounding students also helps to close these achievement gaps. Further, since race match effects differ across races, it is important to understand how these effects impact understudied populations. I fill this gap within the literature by utilizing the data advantages found in LAUSD to shed light on another significant population, Hispanic students.

Summary

Earlier this year, Senator Kamala Harris provided a $2.5 billion plan to train teachers at historically Black colleges and universities to address the growing consensus that Black teachers are under-represented in the nation’s teacher workforce. This under-representation is particularly concerning given recent evidence that suggest racial achievement gaps for Black students may be reduced through matching students to teachers of the same race (e.g. Egalite et al., 2015). However, the current literature lacks reliable effects for Hispanic students race matched to their teacher. Even though students may improve through student-teacher race matching, the lack of evidence for all races and possible legal recourse, leave administrators hesitant to sort students and teachers based on race. Another policy option may be diversifying the overall teacher workforce to which students of color are exposed, regardless of classroom-based race-match. Given the evidence from the teacher collaboration literature (e.g. Jackson et al., 2009), it is likely that race matched faculty impact student outcomes. In this paper, I contribute to the race match literature by identifying the impact that overall faculty race has on student achievement. I ask: 1) what is the effect of student-faculty race match on student achievement, and how does this differ by student race?

In addition, this paper contributes to the race match literature by investigating effects on Hispanic students. Due to data limitations, previous studies have been unable to reliably estimate a race match effect for Hispanic students. This is problematic because nearly one quarter of US students identify as Hispanic. To better understand the specific effect for Hispanic students, I use data from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which allows for a unique insight into the Hispanic race match effect while also accounting for the effect of overall faculty race. I ask: 2) what is the effect of student-teacher race match on Hispanic students’ achievement?

To answer these questions, I use administrative panel data from LAUSD covering school years 2008-2009 to 2017-2018. For each student, the data contain information on race, grade, gender, English Language Learner (ELL) status, Free- or Reduced-Lunch (FRL) eligibility, and standardized math and reading test scores. The data link students to teachers, and include teacher characteristics such as race, grade taught, gender, years of experience, whether they have a Master’s degree, and certification status. Also, each student-teacher pairing includes the course subject (i.e. Math or ELA). The reported testing data only includes grades 3 through 8, but the use of previous test scores requires the analytical sample be constrained to grades 4 through 8. Ultimately, there are over 1.3 million student-year and 24,000 teacher-year observations.

The extant literature has shown that teacher sorting by race across schools may lead to biased estimates. To avoid this issue, I exploit the variation in the faculty race distribution within schools via a school-grade fixed effect. By focusing only on the changes to faculty within a school-grade cell, I am able to identify the student-faculty race match effect.

Preliminary results indicate that a 10% increase in the share of race matched faculty improves math and ELA test scores by .003 standard deviations. This effect varies by student race, ranging from no impact to .005 for Black students on their ELA scores. These effects directly compare to estimates ranging from .004 to .005 standard deviation increases in Math and ELA scores found in student-teacher race match studies. In addition, I find that Hispanic students see an increase in test scores by .005 sd in Math when race matched while also experiencing further gains with increases in the exposure to Hispanic faculty.

If policy makers are interested in closing student achievement gaps between races, then race match studies show that shrinking the disparity in the racial distribution of teachers is an important factor. However, this does not necessarily mean that all minority students need to have a minority teacher. I find that other faculty members have a significant impact as well which implies that diversifying the people surrounding students also helps to close these achievement gaps.

Further, since race match effects differ across races, it is important to understand how these effects impact understudied populations. I fill this gap within the literature by utilizing the data advantages found in LAUSD to shed light on another significant population, Hispanic students.