11/07/2013 06:10 pm ET

Study Finds Black Teachers Reduce African-American Teen Pregnancy Rate


Despite a steady decline, the U.S. still leads with the highest teen birth rate of any developed country. Among those reports, rates among black and Latino teens are twice as high as those among non-Hispanic whites. But a new study has found a potential solution that could not only affect the overall rate of teen births, but could specifically address the issue within minority communities.

According to new research from the University of Georgia, published in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, an increase in minority teachers could reduce the teen pregnancy rate among minorities.

The study analyzed data from Georgia public schools from 2002 to 2006, and teen pregnancy rates by county. Researchers Vicky Wilkins and Danielle Atkins compared teacher representation in high schools and the reported pregnancy rates by district. They found a 10 percent increase in African-American teachers would result in six fewer African-American teen pregnancies per district. Districts with 20 to 29 percent African-American teachers resulted in a significant decrease in teen pregnancy, 18.8 fewer pregnancies per 1,000 students.

"You do not see a decrease in teen pregnancy for African-American teenagers until you reach a critical mass of African-American teacher representation," Wilkins said. "We identified 17.6 percent as the tipping point where the percentage of African-American teachers started to significantly lower the African-American teen pregnancy rate."

The report builds on former research that has shown how minority representation can improve circumstances for a particular group or community. Researchers have found that "proportional representation creates new avenues of political power for people of color and the poor, two groups traditionally denied fair access to power in this country."

Wilkins and Atkins found that African-American teachers not only served as positive role models, but also contributed to a more comfortable environment for minority students with regard to non-educational circumstances. Both male and female students asked teachers for advice on relationships or premarital sex, leading to frank and honest discussions.

"Our discussions convinced us that, although any teacher can serve as a role model, African-American students seek out role models that look like them, particularly with regard to non-educational issues," Wilkins said.

"I think we have to consider the broad impacts of minority teacher representation. It is an important consideration for hiring and training of teachers, and we have to be aware of the role that community and culture play in discussions of risky behaviors."