Voices in Education

Racial (Mis)Match: Understanding the Phenomenon at a More Nuanced Level
How does teacher race impact student achievement? Calls to hire more teachers of color stem, in part, from growing awareness that the US teaching force is predominantly white, but increasingly serves a diverse student population. Further, state-level studies have found that same-race teachers positively impact student outcomes, such as achievement and graduating high school (Egalite, Kisida, & Winters, 2015; Gershenson, Hart, Lindsay, & Papageorge, 2017; McGrady & Reynolds, 2013). While drawing more teachers of color into education is critical, the issue of racial matching in the classroom is complex and needs a more nuanced analysis. 

Some large-scale studies suggest a “role model effect,” but it is not clear what that really means. Does the mere presence of a same-race teacher improve student achievement? This seems overly simplistic to us as if all students will feel a connection to a same-race teacher or view them as a “role model.” Furthermore, there are certainly classrooms where there is no racial match, but students of color are being served well. 

In our article in the Winter issue of the Harvard Educational Review, we argue for the importance of detailing variation in relational mechanisms of the classroom in order to better understand racial (mis)match. For example, what can we learn from white teachers who are having positive effects on black students? What is different about their classrooms from those of black teachers who are having positive effects? And for white teachers who are having particularly negative effects on students, what is it about their practice that is hurting students of color? In our study, we see white teachers of black students interact in extremely negative ways around behavior, student contributions, emotions, and ability, providing an insight into when and why the racial (mis)match effects are produced for specific classrooms.

Melinda Anderson (2014) raises a powerful question, “How much of the ‘achievement gap’ can be correlated to the lack of racially proficient white teachers?” A focus on relational mechanisms prioritizes the racially-conscious practices and beliefs that teachers need to better serve students of color. How much are we holding teachers accountable for relational dimensions of classrooms? In what ways are we supporting teachers’ relational engagement with students, specifically around race? While efforts to bring more teachers of color into the field are important, it is also critical that both current and future teachers are supported in understanding and enacting racially affirming practices to disrupt educational inequities due to racially biased treatment and institutional racism.


Anderson, M. D. (2014, November 12). Can white teachers be taught how to teach our children? The Root. Retrieved from https://www.theroot.com/can-white-teachers-be-taught-how-to-teach-our-children-1790877677

Egalite, A. J., Kisida, B., & Winters, M. A. (2015). Representation in the classroom: The effect of own-race teachers on student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 45, 44–52. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2015.01.007

Gershenson, S., Hart, C. M. D., Lindsay, C. A., & Papageorge, N. W. (2017). The long-run impacts of same-race teachers (IZA Discussion Paper No. 10630). Retrieved from http://ftp.iza.org/dp10630.pdf

McGrady, P. B., & Reynolds, J. R. (2013). Racial mismatch in the classroom: Beyond black-white differences. Sociology of Education, 86(1), 3–17. doi: 10.1177/0038040712444857

About the Author: Dan Battey is an associate professor of mathematics education in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. 

Victoria A. Belizario earned her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and is a public information clerk at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Rachel Greco is a graduate student in the K–12 English Education Program at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education.

Luis A. Leyva is an assistant professor of mathematics education in the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University.

Roshni Shah is a graduate student pursuing her master’s in biomedical sciences at Rutgers University. 

Immanuel Williams is a lecturer in the Statistics Department at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Dan Battey, Luis A. Leyva, Immanuel Williams, Victoria A. Belizario, Rachel Greco, and Roshni Shah are the authors of "Racial (Mis)Match in Middle School Mathematics Classrooms: Relational Interactions as a Racialized Mechanism," which appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of the Harvard Educational Review.