While there is a need for further study about the effect of implicit bias on teachers, we can already see the influence of bias and stereotyping in Pre K-12 education on one of today’s most controversial issues: discipline and suspension rates. Nearly one in four black students are suspended today, a rate that has nearly doubled since the 1970s. This is over three times the suspension rate for white students, yet behavioral differences don’t account for this gap. Researchers in 2011 determined that the racial gap in suspension rates is due instead to more black and Latino students being suspended for ambiguous behaviors such as “disrespect” or “loitering.” Subjective judgments, particularly in the heat of the moment, are most likely to be influenced by implicit biases.
Stereotype threat has been shown to influence academic performance of students of color as early as middle school. The effects of stereotype threat on academic performance also increase with higher stakes tasks, when the material is more difficult, and with lower representation of one’s group. One meta-analysis combining the results of field experiments involving over 15,000 students found that conventional measures of academic performance underestimate the ability of members of stereotyped groups, including black students. The size of this gap is 62 points on the SAT, and likely to be an underestimation.
More casual day-to-day interactions between students and teachers are also shaped by racial anxiety. There is considerable evidence that white teachers, fearing the accusation that they are racist, withhold effective critical feedback from students of color. Students of color, meanwhile, worry that their race shapes how they are being treated, leading to alienation from their schools and the kind of extracurricular and academic support programs that lead students to excel. In light of this, research is now turning to what can be done to mitigate the effects of bias and anxiety on education.