School choice delivers larger student achievement gains than own-race teachers

Does the academic achievement of students increase when they have teachers of the same race and ethnicity? Not that much. Access to school choice delivers far larger student achievement gains.

A 2015 study on achievement effects of teacher-student racial or ethnic matching in Florida showed that this intervention increases student reading achievement by 0.004-0.005 standard deviations and student math achievement by 0.007-0.041 standard deviations, with some effects statistically significant and some not significant.

A December 2022 study recently published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly looked at student-teacher racial or ethnic matching in U.S. elementary schools and also found mostly null effects, with observed positive effects small in size. “Overall, we observed that being taught by teachers of the same race or ethnicity made little difference in whether students displayed greater achievement, better behavior or increased executive functioning or were more likely to be in gifted or special education classes.”

The authors noted that their findings — small observed effects and more often on subjective measures like classroom behavior than objective measures of academic achievement — are consistent with the 2015 study’s findings and other studies on the topic.

In contrast, the positive effect of private school choice on student achievement outcomes is more reliable and much larger.

A 2021 meta-analytic and systematic review drawing from all rigorous U.S. studies shows participation in a private school choice program increases student reading achievement by 0.047 standard deviations and student math achievement by 0.043 standard deviations, with both effects statistically significant. That average reading gain is 10 times larger than the average reading gain observed in the 2015 study from having a same-race or ethnicity teacher.

Given that children can, of course, learn fully and successfully from educators with a different skin color, why bring these studies up? Because there has been a push at the legislature that Minnesota students of color need teachers who look like them to succeed. Not only is this an illiberal worldview, it’s not supported by strong evidence.

As I wrote here, a bill on increasing teachers of color, which in and of itself is a noteworthy goal, would do more harm than good by lowering teacher certification requirements, putting into law ideological language, and funding race-based affinity groups, to name a few.

This is the priority, even when data show that school choice and expanding educational freedom is much more powerful. A school choice bill has been introduced in both the House and Senate, but it has not been given a hearing in either chamber.

As Minnesota considers education reforms to address a dismal track record of academic growth and stubborn achievement gaps, school choice should be the clear priority as a much more helpful intervention.