Such simulations, however, are open to the criticism that they may not predict how teachers would actually behave in real situations. Several naturalistic studies have shown results such as higher rates of teacher attention and praise to Anglo American children (Buriel, 1983; Jackson and Cosca, 1974), as well as negative teacher attitudes to non-English-speaking students (Laosa, 1979). With regard to black students, Irvine (1990) found that teachers quickly formed lasting impressions of students’ academic abilities that were often inaccurate, particularly with regard to black males.
Some studies of naturalistic settings, however, have shown that teacher’s predictions about students’ performance prove to be quite accurate (Brophy and Good, 1974; Egan and Archer, 1985; Evertson et al., 1972; Willis, 1972) for black students as well as for whites (Gaines, 1990; Haller, 1985; Irvine, 1990). Accurate teacher prediction, however, could also be explained as a self-fulfilling prophecy. This notion, developed by Merton (1948) and made famous by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968), suggests that students will achieve in a manner consistent with the teacher’s expectations. Evaluations of the self-fulfilling prophecy theory are mixed (Brophy, 1983; Jussim and Eccles, 1995; Smith, 1980).
An alternative explanation for the accuracy of teacher prediction involves potential race-linked differences in student sensitivity to teacher judgments. Jussim et al. (1996) compared teachers’ perceptions of 1,664 6th graders’ performance in mathematics, controlling for background factors such as students’ previous grades, test scores, self-perception of mathematics ability, self-reported effort, and time spent on homework. They found no evidence of racial stereotype bias in teachers’ perceptions. However, in examining how teacher perceptions influence students’ future performance, they found significant differences in the impact of teacher perceptions on the students by race/ethnicity, with an impact on both test scores and grades for black students three times that of whites. This suggests that black students may be more vulnerable to teacher perceptions than are whites. Effects were also larger for girls and for children from low-income families.
The possible greater sensitivity, or perhaps vulnerability, of minority youngsters to teacher judgments and expectations is consistent with concerns that many researchers have raised about the role of culture in student success. Several analysts have proposed that racial and ethnic differences in measured achievement could be caused by cultural differences in attitudes toward school and achievement (e.g., Heath, 1982; Ogbu, 1987; Fordham, 1988). There are at least two different ways of articulating this argument. One prominent strand of the cultural argument contends that, for example, black students adopt an oppositional culture in relation to the school. A