Measuring Implicit Bias in Schools: Bias Among the Well-Intentioned

February 28, 2022

By Samantha August, Danielle Miller, & Nick Kovalcik

School administrators around the country are debating policy changes and professional development. Recent research suggests that teachers’ implicit biases may impact student results, underscoring the need for these discussions. It is tough to quantify implicit prejudice in teachers because it is not always part of the evaluation process that school districts and administrators go through – it is not always part of looking at teachers in the classroom. While there has been much theoretical research on teacher biases, quantifiable confirmation of the link between biases and outcomes has only lately become available.

There is a discrepancy between professed ideals and actual behavior due to unconscious prejudice. A person may profess equality and nondiscrimination and believe that he or she is acting in good faith, but then act discriminatorily and adequately justify such actions with allusions to themes unrelated to race. Despite the administrators’ statements, backed up by the mission statement and strategic plan, asserting their commitment to diversity, they refuse to recruit or even interview the available candidates for reasons unrelated to race. 

Schools must have discussions with their adult populations about unconscious bias. This training cannot be optional if a school truly wishes to ensure that all adults are effective advocates of its diversity purpose and that its community is genuinely inclusive.

School leaders debate and reflect on race and racism, resulting in policy reforms and professional development in the United States. According to research, teachers’ biases may impact individual student outcomes, emphasizing the relevance of these discussions. Mark Chin, a Harvard Ph.D. student, has been researching teacher biases and adds that while there has been much theoretical research on the subject, there has not been enough quantitative proof or outcomes available until now. “It is difficult to identify teachers’ implicit prejudice because measuring it is not always part of the assessment that school districts and school officials conduct — it is not always part of the process of examining teachers in the classroom” (Mark Chin). “The implicit biases of instructors differ significantly by the race of the individual, and regions with stronger pro-white/anti-Black bias among teachers exhibit larger discrepancies between test scores and suspension rates for Black and white pupils,” Chin and his co-researchers found.

A principal consultant at Diversity Directions, Christine Savini, wrote a case study illustrating many institutions’ experiences in hiring a diverse faculty. When confronted with particular conditions, one’s judgment is frequently obstructed by unconscious bias. According to Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, many people are affected by “culture pollution,” even if it is not intended. In many school systems, unconscious bias is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Providing future school leaders and teachers with experiential learning opportunities that can help students uncover and overcome unconscious bias will go a long way towards positively impacting student engagement and achievement when they are on the job. SchoolSims simulations can help prevent these issues. Our simulations provide a risk-free environment where participants have an opportunity to fail as they face difficult situations and can be implemented into your university’s curriculum.


References:

Measuring implicit bias in schools. Harvard Graduate School of Education. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/08/measuring-implicit-bias-schools

Bias among the well-intentioned. NAIS. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://www.nais.org/magazine/independent-school/summer-1980/bias-among-the-well-intentioned/