In California district, study finds Latinx students with Latinx teachers attend more school

August 10, 2021
Students working independently in class

While the teaching workforce continues to be heavily dominated by white teachers, in particular white women, the academic and social-emotional benefits for students of color of having a teacher who is their same race have been widely documented. Less studied is the impact that having a same-race teacher has on attendance. In new research published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Penn GSE’s Michael Gottfried, a professor in the Education Policy division, sets out to explore this question along with J. Jacob Kirksey (Texas Tech University) and Tina L. Fletcher (University of Pennsylvania). 

Gottfried, Kirksey, and Fletcher utilized data from a high school district in California with a large Latinx student population to investigate the influence of student-teacher racial and ethnic match on absenteeism. They found that Latinx students with Latinx teachers attend more school; this relationship does not exist for white students. Notably, this relationship only appears for unexcused absences, not excused absences. 

“This is important for our modeling because excused absences signal health issues. But unexcused absences are about school engagement,” Gottfried explains. These results also only emerged for 11th and 12th graders, and are the strongest when students had a same-race teacher for the first period of the day. Gottfried hypothesizes that this same-race relationship could be “what motivates kids early in the morning to get to school.”

 Three student groups particularly benefitted from having a same-race teacher: students who were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, migrant students, and students who were chronically absent the previous school year. As higher absenteeism is tied to a number of what Gottfried, Kirksey, and Fletcher describe as “negative academic and developmental consequences,” increasing the number of teachers of color continues to be an important policy intervention.

“I’m excited about this work because it addresses malleable ways to support students from diverse minority backgrounds at school -- namely by showing the importance of a same-race/ethnicity teacher to boost importance student outcomes, like attendance,” shares Gottfried. “But more so, it also stresses the importance of diversifying the teaching workforce.”

For more, read the full study published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.