Implicit Bias Among North Carolina Teachers

A recent study on implicit bias published by NC State University looks closely at how Wake County educators are influenced by racial bias in the classroom.

I recently read about a study that was conducted and published by NC State University. The purpose of the study was to determine if racial bias played a part in a teacher’s decision to punish their students. In Wake County, only 24% of students are Black, however, they accounted for 55% of out-of-school suspensions in 2015. On top of that, Black students accounted for 65% of total class periods missed due to out-of-school suspensions. White students made up only 19% of out-of-school suspensions and accounted for a mere 13% of class periods missed which would tend to suggest that not only are Black students punished more frequently but for longer durations.

The study also suggests that teachers frequently are worse at identifying the emotions of their Black students. When shown actors portraying different emotions such as anger and surprise, prospective teachers are 1.5 times more likely to accurately identify the emotions of white adults than of black adults. They were also three times more likely to identify that the expression on a Black person’s face was associated with anger when in reality the person was not displaying anger at all. In addition, when later shown videos of misbehaving boys of different races doing the exact same thing and being asked to grade the boys on a scale of one to five in terms of the severity of their conduct, the Black children were rated at 3.37 on average whereas White children, who displayed identical conduct, were assigned scores of 2.12 on average, which was far less severe.

The observations obtained through this study help us to understand a concept known as implicit bias. Implicit biases are those that each of us possess and internalize in our values and attitudes which we do not realize. All people, Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American, all of us possess these implicit biases. The only way we can address these biases is if we understand them and compensate for them in our behavior.

It’s not surprising that you would see far more Black students being suspended for longer periods of time based upon identical conduct engaged in by other students in light of the findings in this study where subtle gestures, facial expressions, and conduct are interpreted differently based upon our worldview and values that we have internalized. We can all do better in addressing implicit biases, however, we must work to eradicate them from our schools, our court systems, and other institutions which should be serving all people equally.

Legislative Gun Control Proposal to Keep Our Schools Safe

Today, I participated in a news conference with Senator Jay Chaudhuri, Senator Jeff Jackson, Rep. Grier Martin, and Rep. Marcia Morey during which we presented a Legislative Gun Control Proposal to Keep Our Schools Safe. Our proposal included the following:

  • The enactment of extreme risk protection orders that would allow families and law enforcement to ask the courts to temporarily remove guns from individuals who endangered themselves or their community.
  • To expand universal background checks for assault-style firearms such as the AR-15 weapon used in the Parkland shooting.
  • To raise the age for the purchase of assault weapons to 21.
  • To prohibit the sale of bump stocks which are an inexpensive device that modifies a semi-automatic weapon into a machine gun.
  • Increasing funding for school psychologists and school therapists.
  • Funding a highly visible statewide anonymous tip line.

During the press conference, I spoke of the need for our State to operate an anonymous tip line statewide so that students, family members, and concerned citizens can report potential threats of violence. I also spoke of the need for increased funding for School Psychologists and School Counselors in our state. The national average for School Psychologists is 1 for every 700 students, however, in NC, we currently have only 1 for every 2,000 students. When it comes to School Counselors, the national average is 1 for every 250 students, however, in NC, we only have 1 for every 375 students. Yet there has been one common thread that is tied together virtually all of the school shootings as well as other mass murders. It is the fact that the gunman has been diagnosed with mental illnesses which went unaddressed. We need to make certain that we diagnose and intercept students with mental illnesses at the earliest possible point in time to get them help so as to avoid circumstances that could result in their using firearms to hurt themselves or others. I also spoke of the need for us to direct the Center for Safer Schools to conduct a study to determine recommended funding for school resource officers who are law enforcement officers assigned to our schools.

The package of reforms which we collectively proposed will be part of legislation which will be introduced this year. I am hopeful that we will obtain bipartisan for these common-sense measures which will represent meaningful incremental change.

Durham Early Childhood Education Community Forum

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending an Early Childhood Community Forum which provided an outstanding overview of the reasons why we need to establish a universal preschool program to serve all 3 and 4-year-old children in Durham County. Presently, only 38% of children entering kindergarten in Durham are proficient in reading. Even by the end of 3rd grade, 53% of our students score below grade level in reading. Data also suggests that 12% of our preschools children come from families where there are mental health problems in the home, and 16% live in homes where the cost of housing exceeds 50% of a family’s income. 

We all realize that if students are not reading by the time they complete 3rd grade, there is a substantially greater probability that they will encounter academic difficulties in school and are more likely to be kids that will drop out from school later in life and frequently become involved with a higher level of disciplinary problems. It is a result of these factors that Durham County is embarking upon an aggressive campaign to establish universal preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds in our community. 

It is estimated that it will cost 14.5-15.5 million dollars simply to serve the low-income children in our community, but the goal of this ambitious undertaking is to provide high quality preschool to all 3 and 4-year-olds by 2023. Durham County is beginning a commitment to this process by appropriating 1 cent on the county’s property tax rate which would be dedicated for this purpose, however, substantially more will need to be done to make this commendable dream a reality. I’d like to thank all of those who participated in the program this past Saturday for their commitment to the future of children in our community. I will do all that I can to support this initiative since it is a wonderful vision worthy of our State and our community’s investment.