Dr. Matthew Incantalupo, assistant professor of political science at Yeshiva University, and Dr. Zachary Oberfield, professor of political science at Haverford College, co-published “Racial Discrimination and Street-Level Managers: Performance, Publicness, and Group Bias” in Public Administration Review (March 4, 2021).
In a short video presentation called the PAR Minute, Dr. Incantalupo explained the goals of their research, how they set up their study and the outcomes of the study. Here is the transcript of the presentation:
Recent audit studies suggest that public sector workers discriminate among the citizens they serve based on race and ethnicity. However, few studies focus on street level managers, the workers who oversee frontline staff and guide office policy. We also wanted to examine factors that may mitigate or exacerbate discrimination.
So, we conducted an audit study that looked at how American high school principals, the street level managers of public schools, responded to emails about students of different races.
We looked at three moderating factors. First, we wondered how racial discrimination was affected by a cue about the student’s ability, which could in turn affect the schools overall performance.
Second, we contacted principals in public schools as well as charter schools which are publicly funded but privately operated. Charter schools are thought to have stronger market incentives to succeed and less oversight by public entities. Therefore, we wondered if they would discriminate at higher levels.
Third, we explored how discrimination varied across principles of different races. We found that with no ability cue, principals responded at lower levels to emails about a Black student. As expected, a high-ability cue mitigated such discrimination.
Principals responded equally to high-ability White and Black students.
Interestingly, the low-ability cue also mitigated such discrimination. Additional information reduces discrimination.
Contrary to expectations, we found the publicness of the schools was basically unrelated to racial discrimination. In other words, discrimination was not driven by charter school principals.
Finally, principal race had a big impact. White principals were much more likely to discriminate by student race. However, Black principals worked in more administratively challenging settings, and, as such, responded at lower levels generally.
Black students were equally likely to receive a response from Black and White principals.
We argue that this raises an important issue for representative bureaucracy: The necessity of supporting public officials working in difficult settings.
In summary, we think that these results raise interesting questions for policymakers and scholars.
Zachary W. Oberfield is a Professor of Political Science at Haverford College. His research interests include education, leadership, and street-level bureaucracy. He is the author of two books: Are Charters Different? Public Education, Teachers, and the Charter School Debate (Harvard Education Press) and Becoming Bureaucrats: Socialization at the Front Lines of Government Service (University of Pennsylvania Press). email@example.com
Matthew B. Incantalupo is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yeshiva University. His research interests include political behavior, inequality, and experimental methods. He is a coauthor of Elite-led Mobilization and Gay Rights: Dispelling the Myth of Mass Opinion Backlash (University of Michigan Press). firstname.lastname@example.org