The Impact Teacher Psychology Has on Educational Inequalities

April 27, 2022

Key Takeaway: Teacher attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions are critical in how they have the potential to contribute to or reduce educational inequalities. —Matt Piercy

Kate M. Turetsky, Stacey Sinclair, Jordan G. Starck, and J. Nicole Shelton (2021) investigated psychological contributors to educational inequality and the far-reaching impact of teacher psychology. Teachers’ gender-biased perceptions, fixed mindsets, and disparate assessment were all examined. Systematic factors (ie. socio-economic and racial/ethnic disparities), the broader educational system and society, and parents all factor into educational inequalities. However, a field of research is burgeoning in how teacher psychology also plays a pivotal role. Further, changing teachers’ attitudes, perceptions, or beliefs is essential.

The authors investigated two significant questions:

  1. Which teacher attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs contribute to educational inequality?
  2. How does teacher psychology exacerbate or mitigate educational inequality?

Here are the major takeaways from the article:

  • Research confirms how teachers often hold more negative perceptions and expectations of students from marginalized groups but also assess them more negatively compared with advantaged groups. This disparate assessment is evidenced across several nations including New Zealand,1 Sweden,2 Brazil,3 Germany,4 and the United States.5 Patterns of such disparities, including high-stakes national exams, are evidenced by comparisons with blind evaluations.
  • Teachers overestimating students led to larger gains in math standardized test scores. Whereas underestimation predicted smaller gains. These effects strengthened as students increased in age and were larger for girls of all races and also Black and Latino boys.6
  • No substantive change in mathematics achievement or a narrowing of the gender gap was noted from 1999 to 2011. This is attributed to teacher gender-biased perceptions of ability between boys and girls in grade school.7,8
  • The authors cite a US university-wide study where 150 STEM professors and more than 15,000 students revealed how courses led by faculty with a fixed versus growth mindset led to a racial achievement gap.9
  • Focusing intervention on teachers may reduce educational inequalities even without specifically targeting students. Blind grading is one recommended strategy but also teacher training programs where high-quality instruction emphasizes the importance of engaging all students.10

Summarized Article:

Turetsky, K. M., Sinclair, S., Starck, J. G., & Shelton, J. N. (2021). Beyond students: how teacher psychology shapes educational inequality. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Summary by: Matt Piercy — Matt appreciates how at the heart of the MARIO Framework is a passion to develop relationships and a desire to empower students to uncover their purpose while building upon strengths. Further, Matt is inspired by how the MARIO team supports educators and is quickly and nobly becoming a collaborative force in pursuit of educational equity.

Additional References:

1. Meissel, K., Meyer, F., Yao, E. S., & Rubie-Davies, C. M. (2017). Subjectivity of teacher judgments: Exploring student characteristics that influence teacher judgments of student ability. Teaching and Teacher Education, 65, 48-60.

2. Hinnerich, B. T., Höglin, E., & Johannesson, M. (2015). Discrimination against students with foreign backgrounds: Evidence from grading in Swedish public high schools. Education Economics, 23(6), 660-676.

3. Burgess, S., & Greaves, E. (2013). Test scores, subjective assessment, and stereotyping of ethnic minorities. Journal of Labor Economics, 31(3), 535-576.

4. Sprietsma, M. (2013). Discrimination in grading: Experimental evidence from primary school teachers. Empirical economics, 45(1), 523-538. 

5. Glock, S. (2016). Does ethnicity matter? The impact of stereotypical expectations on in-service teachers’ judgments of students. Social Psychology of Education, 19(3), 493-509.

6. Jamil, F. M., Larsen, R. A., & Hamre, B. K. (2018). Exploring longitudinal changes in teacher expectancy effects on children’s mathematics achievement. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 49(1), 57-90.

7. Robinson-Cimpian, J. P., Lubienski, S. T., Ganley, C. M., & Copur-Gencturk, Y. (2014). Teachers’ perceptions of students’ mathematics proficiency may exacerbate early gender gaps in achievement. Developmental psychology, 50(4), 1262.

8. Cimpian, J. R., Lubienski, S. T., Timmer, J. D., Makowski, M. B., & Miller, E. K. (2016). Have gender gaps in math closed? Achievement, teacher perceptions, and learning behaviors across two ECLS-K cohorts. AERA Open, 2(4), 2332858416673617.

9. Canning, E. A., Muenks, K., Green, D. J., & Murphy, M. C. (2019). STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes. Science advances, 5(2), eaau4734.

You May Also Like
Myths and misconceptions in the belief system of teachers

Recognizing and Unlearning Misconceptions in Education

Teacher attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions are critical in how they have the potential to contribute to or reduce educational inequalities.

07 Aug 2022
We should be creating awareness of the existence of perpetuated educational psychology misconceptio...
The interpretation of inclusive education among educators

Understanding Inclusive Education Among a Triad of Stakeholders

Teacher attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions are critical in how they have the potential to contribute to or reduce educational inequalities.

07 Aug 2022
Within American school districts, there is a call to reimagine what inclusive education looks like ...