Patricia Devine wins grant to address teachers’ unconscious racial bias

According to test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shared in October 2019, Wisconsin has the national’s largest racial achievement gap among students. State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor responded to the results, calling the achievement gap a “crisis.”

Professor Patricia Devine

It’s timely, then, that UW-Madison’s Kenneth and Mamie Clark Professor of Psychology Patricia Devine and Medical University of South Carolina’s Assistant Professor Colleen Halliday were recently awarded a William T. Grant Foundation research grant aiming to reduce racial educational and behavioral disparities through teacher unconscious bias training. Their grant summary states:

Evidence suggests that teachers’ lower expectations and interpersonal behaviors toward African American students, shaped by unintentional racial biases, contribute to gaps in educational and behavioral outcomes between African American and European American students. Teachers’ expectations and behaviors, then, are critical targets for reducing racial disparities, but interventions to shift them must also mitigate teachers’ unintentional racial bias.

This study will test whether a teacher training intervention to address unconscious racial bias can increase teachers’ sensitivity to bias and change their expectations and behavior toward African American students. In turn, it is expected African American students will receive fewer discipline sanctions and improve academically.

Devine and Halliday will use the Prejudice Habit-breaking Intervention, developed by Devine and based on the premise that “implicit bias is like a habit that can be reduced through a combination of awareness of implicit bias, concern about the effects of that bias, and the application of strategies to reduce bias.” In a 2012 study, people who received the intervention showed dramatic reductions in implicit race bias.