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Ethnic-matching: The influence of African American teachers on the reading scores of African American students

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Ethnic-matching: The influence of African American teachers on the reading scores of African American students
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   VOLUME 3, ISSUE 1, SUMMER 2009:  African  American Males in Urban Schools     THE NATIONAL  JOURNAL OF URBAN EDUCATION & PRACTICE  ABSTRACT Conceptual and qualitative studies present sound evidence suggesting that the attributes held by African  American teachers and the physical presence of these teachers can have a significant impact on the academic outcomes of African American students.  This study builds on important research by examining the effects of African American teachers on the achievement of African American students over time. Using growth modeling on a national sample of 1,207  African American elementary level public school students, the results of the study suggest that African  American students with at least one African American teacher had significantly higher reading scores than  African American students with no African  American teacher at the end of kindergarten and the test score gap increased through fifth grade. Ethnic Matching: The Influence of African American  Teachers on the Reading Scores of African American Students Donald Easton-Brooks University of North Texas Chance W. Lewis  Texas A&M University  Yubo Zhang K12 Inc.  AUTHOR INFORMATION Donald Easton-Brooks   is  Assistant Professor of elementary education in the College of Education at the University of North Texas. Email:donald.easton-brooks@unt.edu. Chance W. Lewis   is Endowed Chair and associate professor of urban education in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture in the College of Education at  Texas A&M University. Yubo Zhang   is research & evaluation specialist at K12 Inc. Copyright TSU 2009, All rights reserved 230    INTRODUCTION  African American students continue to score significantly lower on academic achievement tests than European American students (Brooks-Gunn, Rouse, & McLanahan, 2007; Fryer & Levitt, 2004). To combat this concern, many school districts have placed great importance on recruiting and retaining African American teachers. On the elementary school level, recent data show that 8.4% of all public school elementary-level full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers are African American, while 17.4% of the students in public elementary schools are  African American (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). Research findings suggest that  African American students would academically benefit from having African American teachers (Dee, 2001, 2005; Foster, 1994, 1995, 1997; Henry, 1998; Ladson-Billings, 1994, 1995; Lee, 1992; Lewis, 2006; Obgu, 2003; Shipp, 1999). Research on the effects of African American teachers on the academic achievement of African  American students is mixed. Dee’s (2001) found a significant positive effect of African American teachers on African American students, others (Fryer & Levitt, 2004; Zhang, 2007) found no significant effects on African American teachers on African American students at kindergarten. Understanding the long-term effects of African  American teachers on the academic achievement of African American students is important to consider because it allows the research community to determine the importance of  African American teachers. This current study used hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to examine the effects of African American ethnic matching on initial reading scores of African  American students at kindergarten and the growth in these students’ reading scores from kindergarten to fifth grade to measure whether  African American teachers influence the test scores of African American students. LITERATURE REVIEW Research has consistently demonstrated that a test score gap between African American and European American students emerges before students enter kindergarten and widens over time (e.g., Fryer, & Levitt, 2004; Phillips, Brooks-Guncan, Klebanov, & Crane,1998; Phillips, Crouse, & Ralph, 1998; Carneiro & Heckman, 2002). Researchers have devoted their efforts to understanding major contributors to the gap on many fronts. One of the factors cited as a source of schooling problems for minority students is the disconnection/differences between the students’ home culture and school culture (Banks, 1996; Gay, 2000; Milner, 2007; Nieto, 2000;  Taylor et al., 2008). Some researchers (Foster, 1990, 1997; Holmes, 1990; Irvine & Irvine, 1983; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Lewis, 2006; Lynn, 1999, 2001, 2006; Milner, 2006; Obgu, 2003; Shipp, 1999) speculate that minority teachers may serve as bridges to link students’ home and school cultures. This role is especially important at the transitional period when ethnic minority children start formal schooling. Further, researchers (Casteel, 1998; Ferguson, 1998; Ehrenberg, Goldhaber, & Brewer 1995; Zimmerman et al., 1995) have found that teachers’ subjective evaluations of students are more likely to be higher towards students who share their own ethnicity.  Teachers’ interactions with students can also be motivated by familiarity associated with cultural engagement. Delpit (1995) found that the usage of language and language styles (i.e., grammar and syntax, discourse style and interaction patterns, and behavioral norms) encourages the interaction between teachers and students of the same ethnicity. This familiarity can serve as a tool for helping teachers connect with the students in their classrooms. In addition, Rimm-Kaufman et al. (2000) found that non-minority teachers tended to describe minority students as having a hard time following directions, being immature and coming from disorganized homes. However, the minority teachers in the study did not share this view. Others (Ainsworth-Darnell & Downey, 1998; Ehrenberg, Goldhaber, & Brewer 1995; Ferguson, 1998; Irvin, 1990) found that the academic performance of African American students was rated less favorably by European  American teachers than by African American  Easton-Brooks, Lewis, and Zhang Ethnic-Matching: African Americans  VOLUME 3, NUMBER 1, SUMMER 2009 231   African American teacher in an earlier grade had an influence the academic achievement of African  American students as continued through elementary school. Further, research has yet to consider the effects of ethnic matching on factors such as gender, family SES, and large minority populated schools. Easton-Brooks & Brown (in review) found that African American females achieve at a higher level than African American males. Studies (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan 1997; Denton & West, 2002; Dickson & McCabe, 2001; Phillips 2000; Reardon, 2003; Sirin, 2005) have consistently shown that students living in families with a higher SES perform higher on academic achievement test than students living in families  with a lower SES. Brown-Jeffy (2006) found that  when at least half of the students in a high school are ethnic minorities (African American and Spanish-speaking), the academic achievement of all students is lower than when students attend a school with a lower percent of minority students. Brown-Jeffy did find that the percent of minority teachers in a school did not have a significant effect on the achievement scores of students.  While studies have shown significances in the influence of these factors, studies have yet to show whether having an African American teacher influences the academic outcome of  African American students based on these factors.  While research has developed an essential framework for understanding the relationship between African American teachers and African  American students, these findings created theoretical frameworks explaining how African  American students would benefit from having an  African American teacher. On the other hand, quantitative studies on the effects of African  American teachers on the academic outcomes of  African American students is mixed, Further, quantitative research has yet to show whether  African American teachers have a significant effect on the academic outcomes of African  American students over time. The limited body of  work investigating this relationship suffered from using a small regional sample or has not considered the long term effect of ethnic  VOLUME 3, NUMBER 1, SUMMER 2009 232 teachers. Pang and Gibson (2001) further explains that unlike European American teachers, African  American teachers present a physical role model and cultural value often unseen in textbooks.  These types of cultural differences between  African American students and European  American teachers have led to conceptual theories  which suggest that ethnic matching (i.e., African  American students taught by African American teachers) has a positive impact on the academic success of minority students (Foster, 1995; Henry, 1998; Ladson-Billings, 1994, 1995; Lee, 1992; Lewis, 2006; Obgu, 2003; Shipp, 1999). However, quantitative studies on effects of teacher-student ethnic matching on academic achievement are limited. Further, the findings related to this topic are mixed. Fryer and Levitt (2004), in their findings of the achievement gap, excluded ethnic mis-match as an alternative explanation to why the gap between African American and European  American students grew over time. Their analyses showed that the test score gap was larger for  African American students who had at least one  African American teacher in kindergarten and/or first grade. However, the ethnic matching variable used in their study was not well-defined. In another study, Dee (2001) found an increase in the reading and mathematics percentile scores of  African American elementary students when assigned an African American teacher for one year. However, the participants in this study were students from Tennessee, so, although the findings are important, they could only be generalized to that population. Similar cross-sectional studies showed that the reading skills (Hanushek, 1992) and the mathematics achievement (Clewell, Puma, & McKay, 2005) of  African American students increased when this students when being taught by an African  American teacher. Zhang (2007) found that  African American students do not necessarily benefit by the end of kindergarten from having an  African American teacher. However, the study did not examine the long term effects African  American teachers had on the academic outcomes of African American students. For instance, the study did not describe if having at least one  Easton-Brooks, Lewis, and Zhang Ethnic-Matching: African Americans  matching on academic achievement. The limitations of previous research on ethnic-matching led the researchers of this study to address the following research questions: Do African Americans perform better on academic achievement test, as measured by standardized reading scores, when taught by  African American taught?  What is the effect of African American teachers on the academic outcomes of  African Americans at kindergarten and the growth in reading outcomes by gender, family socioeconomic status, and percentage of minorities in the school? METHODOLOGY  The researchers of this study used a two-level hierarchal linear model (HLM) to address the research questions. HLM allow the researchers to examine the effects of ethnic matching on the reading test scores and reading test score growth of African American students in reading between kindergarten and fifth grade. To best understand the effects of teachers on the test scores of students, we used value added modeling (VAM) techniques (Ballou, Sanders, & Wright, 2004; Callender, 2004; McCaffrey, Lockwood, Koretz, Louis, & Hamilton, 2004; Sanders, Saxton & Horn, 1997; Webster & Mendro, 1997). Rubin, Staurt, and Zanutto (2004) presents VAM as a technique for understanding how much of the change in student performance over time can be attributed to differences in teachers. When using  VAM to control for student background  variables, Rowan, Correnti, and Miller (2002) found that this approach accounted for approximately 60-61% of the reliable variance in reading growth. Sample Data in this study were from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, kindergarten through fifth (ECLS-K-5) restricted, collected by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). Data collection began with a nationally representative sample of 21,260 kindergarteners in the fall of 1998, and the study followed the same cohort of children until a majority of them finished fifth grade. There was a total of six measurement points: kindergarten in 1998 through fifth grade in 2003. Surveyors collected data on students, their families, teachers, and school performance during the fall of kindergarten and the spring of their kindergarten, 1 st , and 3 rd , and 5 th  grade years. For this study, the data from the spring of kindergarten, spring of 1st grade, spring of 3rd grade, and spring of 5 th  grade were more consistent for examining test score growth. Students who were in special education as identified by those students with an Individualized Evaluation Plan (IEP) on file at any of the assessment points were eliminated from the study because such students are likely to receive instruction from multiple teachers, confounding the attribution of test score growth to a principal classroom teacher. Students who attended private schools or who transferred between schools at any of the assessment points  were also eliminated from this study to avoid confounding teacher and school effects. Also excluded from this study were students who were not first-time kindergarteners. After removing students who did not meet the study’s specifications described above, 1,207 African  American students from the ECLS-K-5 were included in the study. The majority of the  African American student sample was taught by either African American or European American teachers. Therefore, this current study only focuses on African American students taught by either African American or European American teachers in public school system.  All statistical outputs were weighted using primary sampling unit weights (PSUs) based on geographic areas consisting of counties or groups of counties. The weights were designed to generate national estimates from the ECLS-K data. The weights also adjusted for unequal selection probability associated with the sampled populations and adjusted for non-response. Dependent Variables Reading item response theory (IRT) scores, nested within students, were the observed dependent variable. Each student surveyed in the ECLS-K was administered reading assessments at the end of each grade level. Assessments consisted of two stages. In the first stage, a 12-20  Easton-Brooks, Lewis, and Zhang Ethnic-Matching: African Americans  VOLUME 3, NUMBER 1, SUMMER 2009 233  dependent variable (reading test scores) (Baron & Kenny, 1986). Gender Child gender information was obtained from parent interview data. A composite gender  variable is available in ECLS-K. Female was recorded as 0 and male was recorded as 1. Family Socioeconomic Status Family SES was used as a control variable, since previous research showed that SES has substantial effects in explaining variance in academic outcomes between African Americans and European Americans (Easton-Brooks & Davis, 2007). ECLS-K data provide a composite categorical SES variable. The variable consisted of five quintiles. Easton-Brooks & Davis found that academic outcomes of African American students in families with low SES were lower than those  African American students in families with average or higher SES (Please review Easton-Brooks and Davis for more details on the impact of SES on African American students). Based on these findings, the SES variable in this study was collapsed into a dummy variable. If students were in families with a code of one and two, those families were seen as having a low SES (coded 0). If students were in families with a code of three or above, those families were seen as having an average to above average SES (coded 1). Percentage of Minorities in Schools  The ECLS-K variable on the percentage of minorities in schools ranged from “less than 10 percent” to “75 percent or greater.” The variable  was re-coded to schools with less than 50 percent minorities in the school coded 0 and schools with 50 percent or greater minorities in the school coded 1.  ANALYSIS  Two-level HLM analyses were used to test  whether the independent and moderator variables  were associated with change in students’ IRT reading scores, using the HLM6.4 software application (Raudenbush, Bryk & Congdon, 2004). Four models were analyzed in this study. Model 1 consisted of a fully unconditional analysis conducted on reading test scores between kindergarten and fifth grade. In this level of the  VOLUME 3, NUMBER 1, SUMMER 2009 234 item routing test was administered to each student. Performance on the first stage routing items guided which one of the several alternative second-stage tests was administered to each student. The second-stage test consisted of items of appropriate difficulty by each student’s ability level as indicated by the first-stage routing test. Given that all students were not administered the same test, item response theory (IRT) scale scores  were computed for each student. IRT scores represent estimates of the number of items students would have answered correctly if they had answered all of the questions in both the stages. The IRT scores were comparable across students within a wave and across waves. These comparisons allow for analysis of reading performance over time. The reliability of test scores was very high (r=0.93) (Pollack, Atkins-Burnett, Najarian & Rock, 2005). NCES (1999) provided more detailed information about the tests administered. Independent Variables  The independent variable in this study is teacher-student ethnic matching. ECLS-K-5 provided data on the ethnicity of the teacher at each grade level. At fifth grade, data were collected on both reading and mathematics teachers. At fifth grade, this study only assessed the effects of reading teachers on academic achievement.  This study examined the growth of reading scores over time as influenced by teacher-student ethnic matching. Important to this study were the following criteria: (a) types of teacher-student ethnic matching, and (b) the exposure students had to teachers of their same ethnicity. This study examined two combinations of ethnic relationships between students and teachers:  African American students taught by at least one  African American teacher between kindergarten and fifth grade (coded 0), and African American students taught only by European American teachers between kindergarten and fifth grade (coded 1).  Moderator Variables  The moderator variables when used to understand the direction or the strength of the relationship between the independent variable (student-teacher ethnic matching) and the  Easton-Brooks, Lewis, and Zhang Ethnic-Matching: African Americans
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