Teachers favour middle-class students in various ways, perhaps unconsciously, a study says.
Are teachers simply biased against less privileged students? Or do structural factors also contribute to their unequal responses?
Jessica Calarco, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Indiana University in the US, examined these possibilities by using data from a longitudinal, ethnographic study of teachers, students and parents in a socio-economically diverse, public elementary school.
“Overall, I found that teachers often inadvertently translated students’ class-based behaviour into unequal opportunities in school,” she said.
“More specifically, I found that teachers privileged middle-class students by setting middle-class expectations, such as by expecting students to voice their needs and pro-actively seek help,” Calarco said.
The teachers tend to grant requests of middle-class students even when they did not want to approve it, the study said. Calarco said those inequalities may have resulted, in parts, from teachers’ subconscious biases.
More often, however, it seemed that teachers’ unequal responses to students resulted from forces outside their control, including time constraints and pressure from parents.
She also discussed the implications of these findings for research on non-cognitive skills, teacher bias and cultural capital as well as for efforts to alleviate inequalities in school.The findings were presented at the 111th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle.