Bias in the Air: A Nationwide Exploration of Teachers’ Implicit Racial Attitudes, Aggregate Bias, and Student Outcomes

This study examines teachers’ implicit biases and their correlates, largely confirming hypotheses that connect county-level teacher implicit bias to disparities in achievement and school discipline between Black and White students.

Mark J. Chin
David M. Quinn
Tasminda K. Dhaliwal
Virginia S. Lovison
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Harvard Graduate School of Education
University of Southern California
Publication Year
Resource Type
Key Words
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Theory suggests that teachers’ implicit racial attitudes affect their students, but large-scale evidence on U.S. teachers’ implicit biases and their correlates is lacking. Using nationwide data from Project Implicit, we found that teachers’ implicit White/Black biases (as measured by the implicit association test) vary by teacher gender and race. Teachers’ adjusted bias levels are lower in counties with larger shares of Black students. In the aggregate, counties in which teachers hold higher levels of implicit and explicit racial bias have larger adjusted White/Black test score inequalities and White/Black suspension disparities.

Benefits and Uses

The resource provides a good amount of literature on the topic of bias and its effects on education, health, discipline, and overall well-being. The results and discussion areas provide a good understanding of what the research is telling us.

The research findings are of importance in that they point to ways in which educators’ (of children, and to some extent, by extension adult educators’) implicit biases influence their treatment of students, subsequently affecting those students’ ability to learn and develop within classrooms and beyond. 

Many adult educators could use this resource to better understand how their bias (conscious and unconscious) could be affecting their students’ outcomes. Many diversity programs and workshops use Harvard’s Project Implicit tests to help teachers and staff to understand and confront their biases. Using those tests in combination with this paper would be beneficial to those in adult education who have a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). 

Adult education leaders could use this resource as a reason to more heavily invest in supporting their staff by include DEI principles as a part of trainings and performance expectations, and overall culture. For researchers of adult education this could spur them to replicate this work using adult education data. Of course, to do that they would also need more data on adult education than what we currently collect.

What the experts say

Overall, this resource has a lot of needed information that could support adult education programs’ efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). While it is K-12 focused, the results could be extrapolated to adult education easily. It should be noted that this resource has some sections that may be hard for non-research focused readers to understand. While those parts are imperative so that other researchers can replicate, more explanations in layperson’s terms would have benefitted this resource. If a reader can get past that and get to the discussion and interpreting descriptive results sections, they will find helpful information on how bias affects many aspects of the educational experience. 

The resource’s overarching message is of use as a reminder to adult education practitioners that our biases – not only racial but also towards or against particular cultures and populations – can have significant impact on our work to provide the best possible learning conditions, materials, and approaches for adult learners of all races and cultures.

Lastly, one other important note: the resource discusses how the environment/general sentiment of an area could affect student outcomes, meaning that while you may have a teacher or two who may not have a strong bias against a group, if bias is a part of the general culture or area it may still be affecting the students. This points to the need for widespread long-term communal learning. Many organizations and schools could use these findings to better fund staff-wide and long-term professional development focused on DEI as a means to increase student outcomes.

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