Implicit bias can be found in many areas of society, even in sports. For example, in 2007, two university academics released a study of referees and foul calls in the National Basketball Association from 1991-2004 and found evidence of racial bias. White referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players.

Even more disturbing is evidence of bias in health care. Research from the Ohio State University Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity has concluded that:

  • Non-white patients receive fewer cardiovascular interventions and fewer renal transplants;
  • Black women are more likely to die after being diagnosed with breast cancer;
  • Non-white patients are less likely to be prescribed pain medications (non-narcotic and narcotic);
  • Black men are less likely to receive chemotherapy and radiation therapy for prostate cancer; and
  • Patients of color are more likely to be blamed for being too passive about their health care.

Not surprisingly, implicit bias can also be observed in the school environment.

How Does Implicit Bias Manifest Itself in Schools?  School climate, culture, student achievement, co-curricular and curricular opportunities can all be impacted by implicit bias. This bias can also have an impact on relationships and interactions among staff, students, their families, and the community.  It also has an impact on the implementation of discipline policies and practices.

Expections for students can be affected by implicit bias as well; influencing academic course placement, special education eligibility, and opportunities to participate in honors/AP classes, athletics and other co-curricular activities, including social events.

According to a study of 16,000 teachers conducted by academics from American University and Johns Hopkins University, and reported in the September 2015 NEA Today magazine:

  • Whether or not a teacher “believes in” her students and “expects” them to succeed affects how well they do in school.
  • Educators should be aware that their expectations of the students they teach can be influenced by their own implicit racial biases.
  • Black and non-black teachers were asked to predict their 10th-graders’ future educational attainment.
    • Would s/he graduate from high school?
    • Would s/he graduate from college?
  • When asked about any specific black student:
    • Non-black teachers were about 30% less likely than black teachers to predict a specific black student would someday earn a college degree.
    • For white students, the teachers’ predictions, or expectations, were about the same.

Professor Seth Gershenson of American University, one of the authors of the study, wrote in a blog post, “We cannot determine whether the black teachers are too optimistic, the non-black teachers are too pessimistic, or some combination of the two….systematic biases in teachers’ expectations for student success might contribute to persistent socio-demographic gaps in educational achievement and attainment.” Gershenson also wrote, “Biases in expectations are generally unintentional and are an artifact of how humans categorize complex information,” and cautioned that, “These results are not meant to, nor should they, demonize or implicate teachers.”

In the next Equity Council Corner, we will examine how to recognize implicit bias, and the effects of identifying it.

The NJSBA’s Equity Council, which consists of board of education members, superintendents, district administrators, and representatives from the state education department, higher education and advocacy groups, meets periodically to examine issues related to equity in education. As part of the Equity Council’s charge to provide information on best practices and helpful resources to the state’s boards of education, the NJSBA publishes a monthly column on the topic in School Board Notes.

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