Jan 5, 2022 - News

Racial, gender gaps identified in teacher scores

Illustration of a pencil broken in half on a divided background
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Black teachers in Tennessee get lower classroom observation scores than their white peers even when they have similar student achievement metrics, according to a new study from Vanderbilt University.

  • The study also found male teachers regularly scored lower than female teachers.

Between the lines: The study found that racial gaps in scoring were more pronounced in schools with less staff diversity but smaller at schools with more Black teachers and leadership.

  • Black teachers were also more likely to be assigned students with low achievement or behavioral problems, according to the researchers.

Why it matters: Classroom observations, in which school leadership evaluates teachers at work with students, play a significant role in performance reviews, which can guide some elements of their pay and other personnel decisions.

  • The review comes as the Tennessee Department of Education is pushing to increase racial diversity among teachers statewide.

What they're saying: The research was led by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. Researchers said they hope their findings will guide policymakers as they consider diversity in education.

  • "We want observation scores to give accurate information about teachers' effectiveness in the classroom and not to reflect other factors beyond the teachers' control," Vanderbilt professor and alliance faculty director Jason A. Grissom said in a statement.

The fine print: The research team analyzed data for eight school years between 2011-2019.

  • While the study pointed to factors that could influence a racial gap in scores, it did not identify a definitive cause. It also did not include possible reasons men systematically scored lower than women.
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