Implicit Bias Is Real, Even at the Pre-K Level

September 30, 2017

Discipline data collected from the nation’s public schools shows that black and Latino students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students, so researchers at the Yale Child Study Center set out to examine whether implicit bias among early education teachers might be part of the problem.

Harnessing some pretty sophisticated technology, the researchers concluded the answer is, “Yes.”

The first-of-its-kind study found that preschool teachers and staff do show signs of implicit bias in administering discipline, and also that the race of the teacher plays a big role in the outcome. The research used special eye-tracking technology and found that preschool teachers “show a tendency to more closely observe blacks and especially black boys when challenging behaviors are expected.”

At the same time, black teachers hold black students to a higher standard of behavior than do their white counterparts, the researchers found. Black teachers may be demonstrating “a belief that black children require harsh assessment and discipline to prepare them for a harsh world.”

The Yale Child Study Center turned to The Hatcher Group to draw attention to the findings and the result was a massive tsunami of news and social media coverage.

Executing a strategy of an early evening embargo lift the night before a meeting of federal and state education leaders – and right after Hillary Clinton discussed implicit bias in the first presidential debate — the research played in such national outlets as the Washington Post, NPR, Marketplace, CNN, The Atlantic, NBC News, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, POLITICO, Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News & World Report and New York magazine.

On the social media front, the widespread media attention fed into a robust conversation around the report on Twitter. Less than 48 hours after the release, the hashtag, #BiasInPreschool, along with several of the major media hits had received over 36 million potential impressions. This was driven by major media accounts like the Washington Post and Ed Week, but also by key voices in the education and racial justice fields, including Deray McKesson, a leading member of the Black Lives Matter Movement, whose half a million followers retweeted his tweet sharing media coverage from NPR over 500 times.

As lead Yale researcher Dr. Walter Gilliam noted during a national media call arranged by The Hatcher Group: “Implicit bias does not begin with black men and the police. It begins with young black boys and their preschool teachers, if not earlier. Implicit bias is like the wind. You can’t see it, but you sure can feel its effects.”