Theses Doctoral

Trust Matters: Race, Relationships, and Achievement in New York City Public Schools

Fox-Williams, Brittany Nicole

Racial inequality in education remains an enduring facet of American society. Scholars often point to disparate home, neighborhood, and school environments as the primary drivers of educational inequality. This dissertation contributes to the body of work focused on schools, with an emphasis on examining the racial dynamics of students’ trust in their educators (“student–teacher trust”). Drawing on longitudinal education data from New York City and a yearlong interview study of two high schools, I analyze racial disparities in student–teacher trust, examine the role of trust in student performance, investigate the trust experiences of Black youth, and identify practices designed to enhance relational trust in schools.

This dissertation is comprised of three empirical studies on the topic of student–teacher trust. Chapter 1 examines racial differences in student–teacher trust and analyzes how school context shapes the racial dynamics of trust. Findings from ordinary least squares regression models point to explicit racial gaps—with Asian students reporting the most trust in their educators and Black students reporting the least trust. However, my results point to noteworthy intra-racial heterogeneity at the intersections of gender and nativity. Findings from multilevel linear regression models also demonstrate that school racial composition matters for the trust of Black and Latino youth. Chapter 2 analyzes the impact of student–teacher trust on student performance. Results from ordinary least squares and individual fixed effects regressions show that students’ trust in their educators is a positive predictor of standardized tests scores and attendance, and a negative predictor of suspensions. The academic benefits of trust are experienced across all racial groups. Building on the results from the first two chapters, Chapter 3 examines the trust beliefs of Black students and the organizational trust practices of majority-minority schools.

This dissertation makes several contributions to the race, trust, and education literatures. First, this research provides new evidence that racial disparities in trust are cemented by early adolescence and identifies trust as a relevant dimension of racial inequality in education. Second, this study connects student–teacher trust with tangible academic outcomes and offers trust as a new measure of teacher effectiveness. Third, by examining the trust perspectives of Black youth, this work elucidates the sensemaking processes of students with the lowest average levels of trust in their educators. Finally, this study provides insight into the contextual school factors that contribute to the racial dynamics of student–teacher trust formation and highlights strategies for enhancing interpersonal and institutional trust in urban schools.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
DiPrete, Thomas A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 3, 2020