Friday, May 24, 2019

Students can benefit from 'ethnic matching,' says dean of UNR's College of Education

This research by Dr. Easton-Brooks is consistent with a growing body of research which shows strong, positive, and consistent correlations to achievement when teachers share the same race/ethnicity as their students.  Research by Dr. Kenneth Meier further shows that Anglo students benefit as much from diverse environments, as well.

Dr. Easton-Brooks' recently-published book is titled, Ethnic Matching: Academic Success of Students of Color.  I look forward to reading it.

-Angela Valenzuela

Students can benefit from 'ethnic matching,'says dean of UNR's College of Education

Donald Easton-BrooksPublished 12:07 p.m. PT May 21, 2019 | Updated 12:11 p.m. PT May 21, 2019| Reno Gazzette Journal

Donald Easton-Brooks (Photo: Provided by Donald Easton-Brooks)
I am excited to be the incoming dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada-Reno and to work with the schools and their ever-changing demographics. I also feel that my new book, "Ethnic Matching: Academic Success of Students of Color," can provide districts like Washoe and others insightful ways to provide equitable education for all students.
When talking about ethnic matching, what I often hear is, “What is ethnic matching?” Ethnic matching is when you pair a student of color with a teacher of the same race/ethnicity. The research in my book shows that students of color tend to perform better academically when they encounter at least one teacher of color. Similar research found this to be true in human resources, counseling, management/supervision and higher education. 
So is it safe to say we feel more comfortable with people of our own race than we do with people of other races? If so, why not just hire the same race of people who match the demographics of the people we serve, or simply bring back segregation? I would argue that ethnic matching is not that simplistic, and if we were to only hire those who fit our demographics or move back to segregation practices, we would be breaking a number of civil rights and labor laws.
Additionally, ethnic matching is not to imply that we segregate ourselves from one another or create a homogeneous work environment. Yet the findings around this work can be complex. For instance, why do students do better when interacting with teachers of their same race/ethnicity? One argument can be that when engaging in a stressful, possibly unfamiliar situation — like learning new information, stressing over test, or feeling out of place — it can be subconsciously comforting to be around others who share some semblance of normality. One other argument is that there can be social cues, words, phrases or expressions that are culturally significant that set us at a level of comfort.
I understand this because, being in a field that is 2 percent Black, there are interactions and social comforts that I can find and share with other Black colleagues in higher education in the same way I witnessed two White males in the airport, from two different parts of the country, talk about deer hunting. The same as East Oregonians talk about “jockey-boxes,” or Rhode Islanders talk about “cabinets or frappes,” or Southerners talk about “grits with or without sugar.”
These comforts or interactions do not suggest that one likes people from other races/ethnicities less or that they cannot have a best friend or favorite teacher whose race is different from their own. On a subconscious or conscious level, there can be similarities that make a situation more comfortable, less stressing, or more relaxing. Since we are in the U.S. and race is very talked about in our country, it is understandable how ethnic matching carries such significant weight.
However, what I would argue and do in my book is that ethnic matching produces significant findings that are worth exploring. We must ask ourselves, what is the research really telling us?
1.  We do not pay attention to one another as much as we think we do, meaning we are not intentional in our actions to understand one another
2.  We pay more attention to those things that we are most familiar with than with those with which we are not
3.  Diversifying the education workforce is critical.
Related to the latter, in many large cities, the White population makes up about 25 percent or less of the student population in public schools. In the top20 largest suburban schools, nearly half of the students are students of color, and rural schools are now 25 percent students of color. Yet teachers of color make up only 16 percent of the public-school teacher workforce.

The example here is based on the three points above. Research in my book found that even though 98 percent of teachers of color and 96 percent of White teachers took a course in multicultural education or culturally responsive practice, 88 to 94 percent teachers of color used culturally responsive practices in their classroom. In comparison, 76 percent of White teachers used this practice in their classroom. Teachers acknowledge that they did not use culturally responsive practice in their class because there was no support by their district or school leaders, they were not trained, they were not sure what to do, and a small percentage stated that they were not sure it mattered. 

Further, I found that professionals of color who attended public schools had a different interaction with White teachers depending on the number of teachers of color they encountered when attending public school growing up. I found that 88 percent of professionals of color had positive interactions with White teachers if they had at least four teachers of color. In comparison, only 56 percent of these professionals of color had a positive interaction with White teachers if they had one or fewer teachers of color. Another relevant finding in the book is that when White teachers worked with at least 30 percent of the workforce being teachers of color, White teachers were more willing and better able to effectively use culturally responsive practice with their students, regardless of the level of professional development.

Therefore, we know that segregation is not the answer; rather, we must diversify the teacher workforce to provide all students with representation in  schools and to enhance educators’ ability and motivation to implement culturally responsive practices. As I articulate in the book "Ethnic Matching: Academic Success of Students of Color," ethnic matching can provide an insight into understanding students  of diverse backgrounds, enhance the ability of educators to communicate within a diverse work environment, and create a more diverse learning environment in which teachers, students, families and communities benefit.

Donald Easton-Brooks, Ph.D., is the incoming dean of the College of Education at UNR. He is the author of "Ethnic Matching: Academic Success of Students of Color." 

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