Unequal returns to children's efforts: Racial/ethnic and gender disparities in teachers' evaluations of children's noncognitive skills and academic ability

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Research demonstrates the importance of noncognitive skills for educational achievement and attainment. Scholars argue that gender differences in noncognitive skills contribute to the gender gap in education. However, the intersection of student race/ethnicity and gender remains underexplored. Studies that examine how noncognitive skills affect gender or racial disparities in teachers' perceptions of academic skills often assume that children's noncognitive skills have the same benefit for all children. This is questionable given that research suggests that racial biases affect teachers' perceptions of children's noncognitive skills. Using national data, our paper examines how first-grade teachers' ratings of approaches to learning affect their ratings of children's academic skills. We also test if teachers' ratings of children's noncognitive skills have similar benefits across racial/ethnic and gender categories. We use two unidimensional approaches and an intersectional approach to gauge whether an intersectional approach gives us additional leverage that the unidimensional approaches obscure. The two unidimensional approaches reveal important results that suggest that children are differentially penalized by race/ethnicity or gender. Our race/ethnicity findings suggest that, in comparison to White children with identical noncognitive skills and test scores, teachers penalize Black children in math and advantage Asian children in literacy. Findings from our gender analyses suggest that teachers penalize girls in both math and literacy. Our intersectional findings indicate that an intersectional approach gives us additional leverage obscured by both unidimensional approaches. First, we find that Black girls and Black boys are differentially penalized in math. Secondly, for teachers' ratings of literacy, our results suggest that teachers penalize Asian girls but not Asian boys in comparison to White boys. We discuss the implications of our study for understanding the complex relationship between noncognitive skills and social stratification.




Zimmermann, C. R., & Kao, G. (2019). Unequal returns to children’s efforts: Racial/ethnic and gender disparities in teachers’ evaluations of children’s noncognitive skills and academic ability. Du Bois Review, 16(2), 417–438. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1742058X20000016

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