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Black Preschoolers: Victims of Implicit Bias

New research from the Yale Child Study Center suggests that many preschool teachers look for disruptive behavior in Black boys more than any other group of children.

Lead researcher Walter Gilliam told NPR that in order to determine just how much of a role implicit bias—subtle, often subconscious stereotypes that guide our expectations and interactions with people— plays in the classroom, he had to only be partially transparent with the 135 educators surveyed.

“We all have them,” Gilliam says. “Implicit biases are a natural process by which we take information, and we judge people on the basis of generalizations regarding that information. We all do it.”

At an annual conference for Pre-K teachers, Gilliam and his team had participants watch four videos. The videos include a Black girl, a Black boy, a white girl and a white boy. The educators were told that researchers were interested in learning about how teachers detect challenging behavior in the classroom.

Those surveyed were instructed to press the enter key on an external keypad every time they saw a behavior that could become a potential issue.

What the teachers did not know was that their eye-scan technology measured the trajectory of their gaze as they watched the videos.

“What we found was exactly what we expected based on the rates at which children are expelled from preschool programs,” Gilliam says. “Teachers looked more at the Black children than the white children, and they looked specifically more at the African-American boy.”

Data released by the U.S. Department of Education reveals that Black children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from preschool than white children. Simply put, Black children make up 19 percent of all preschoolers, but account for nearly half of preschoolers who get suspended.

For the second component of the study, teachers were given a one-paragraph vignette to read, describing a child disrupting a class such as hitting, scratching even toy-throwing. The child in the vgnette was randomly assigned a “stereotypical” name like DeShawn, Latoya, Jake, Emily. Subjects were then asked to rate the severity of the behavior on a scale of one to five.

The results? White teachers consistently held Black students to a lower standard by rating their behavior as less severe than the same behavior of white students. According to Gilliam, the findings track with previous research around how people may shift standards and expectations of others based on stereotypes and implicit bias.

Some of the teachers were also given information about the child’s home life to see if that made them more empathetic.

While teachers were in fact more empathetic, there compassion had a limit. The student revealed that teachers only expressed empathy and lowered their rating of a behavior’s severity if the student was the same race as them.

Click here for the full report.