Favoritism in the Classroom: A Study on Turkish Schools

By Aydogan, Ismail

Favoritism is among the most popular topics in educational institutions. Teachers are said to favor certain students over others at school and especially in their classes. Despite this popularity, there are very few studies on this topic. In Turkey, discussion of the topic does not go beyond newspaper articles. This study was therefore undertaken to establish the perceptions of Turkish high school students as to whether their teachers were engaged in favoritism. A total of 896 high school students were contacted for their opinions. Data was collected through questionnaires and analyzed with respect to students’ gender, economic status and academic success. The students were found to believe that those whose parents were friends or relatives with the teacher, occupied powerful positions or were economically privileged, and those who held similar political views to the teacher or were physically attractive were favored by the teachers. The ethical principles of the teaching profession include professionalism, responsible service, fairness, equality, loyalty, maintaining a healthy and safe environment, honesty and integrity, trust, objectivity, professional loyalty and continuous development, respect, effective use of resources, respect for human freedom, and compassion (Aydm, 2003; Keith-Spiegel,Witting, Perkins, Balogh & Whitley, 1993) .Additionally, by signing the United Nations Convention against Discrimination in Education, many countries, including Turkey, have adopted the principle of non-discrimination in education for all citizens regardless of race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other affiliations, national or ethnic background, economic power or birth rights. Despite these ethical principles and the existence of the Convention, allegations of discrimination or favoritism sometimes surface in education (Milliyet, 7 October 2006).

Favoritism is the inclination to favor some person or group not for their abilities but for some irrelevant factor such as a characteristictheypossess.or their personal contacts.or merely out of personal preferences (Employee Favoritism, 2006). It destroys equality as it brings certain advantages to people who did not earn them and it also hurts others’ good intentions (Nadler and Schulman,2006).One of the most basic themes in ethics is fairness, stated this way by Aristotle: “Equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally.” Favoritism interferes with fairness because it gives undue advantage to someone who does not necessarily merit this treatment. Comparing the effort distribution of the “normal” pupils with the one of the “special” pupils leads to an observation which might be counterintuitive from the perspective of folk-psychology: Regardless of the question whether ornot they are highly talented in reality and no matter with what kind of teacher they are matched, “special” pupils never become top achievers in a situation where they are potential favorites (Mechtenberg, 2006). I strongly believe that the biggest dilemma presented by favoritism is that few people see it as a problem.

Favoritism in the classroom is one of the most important reasons affecting instruction and thus student success. Factors leading to favoritism among teachers may be listed as follows (Brophy, 1983;Clifton,Perry,Parsonson andHryniuk, 1986; Delamont 1983;Ritts, Patterson and Tubbs, 1992; Dembo, 1994; Bilton, Bonnett, Jones, Stanworth, Sheard, Webster, 1993; Feldman and Saletsky, 1990; Braun, 1976; Kenealy, Frude, Shaw, 1988; Mortimore, Sammons, Stoll, Lewis, Ecob, 1994): student success, student’s social or economic status,gender,physical appearance, familiarity between student and teacher or student’s family and teacher (blood relations or friendship), and Parallelism between the ideology (political or religious) of students or their family and the teacher.

Student Success

Building a positive relationship between the teacher and students helps students become more successful and have more motivation (Al- Houli, 1999;Bhushan, 1985). A teacher’s relationships with students both within and outside the classroom affect their attitudes towards and motivation for that class (McGarity & Butts, 1984). However, teachers are sometimes affected by student success or failure. More precisely, teachers may criticize less successful students more harshly and have less contact with them, thus breaking their motivation to learn. On the other hand, they may perceive certain other students as more successful and thus develop a more positive attitude towards them, which ultimately supports them in gaining more success (Jussim, Smith, Madon & Palumbo, 1998).

Social and Economic Status

Another influential factor in teacher favoritism is the social class to which students belong. Students from a middle class background are observed to be better favored than those from a lower class background (Jussim et.al., 1998). In studies conducted on primary school teachers, it was found that whenever teachers were knowledgeable about students’ socio-economic background, they were also behaving in favor of those from higher social classes (Ozturk, Sahin and Koc, 2002). Sprinthall and Sprinthal (1990) state that in cases where students belong to a lower social class than the teacher, the end result may be teacher favoritism for students that come from a similar background to themselves.

Gender

Gender is an inborn and easily understandable characteristic. Sometimes teachers may be influenced by the gender of a student. Female teachers may have a tendency to favor male students, and male teachers may favor female students. The opposite, that is favoring the students of the same gender, is also a common tendency. Various psychological or social reasons may underlie such teacher behavior. Unconsciously or not, we cannot deny the fact that teachers usually tend to give special attention to boys. What is worse, boys somehow seem too notice that and start to assume a controlling attitude, interrupting girls and demanding more from teachers (Vicente, 1999).

Physical Appearance

Starting from pre-school, teachers have been observed to evaluate student talent relying solely on their physical features. At the very least, they build their first impression on students’ physical appearance and favor those who are better-looking (Jussim et.al., 1998;DusekandJoseph,1983).Acorrelation has been reported in the literature between the perceived attractiveness of a student by the teacher and perceived academic intelligence (Tauber, 1997). Investigating with 17 teachers and 400 middle school students whether physical attractiveness-based teacher expectations are reflected in student grades, Felson (1980) found that physically attractive students were thought to be more talented and thus assigned higher grades, and further, he concluded that physically unattractive students were openly discriminated against (Tauber, 1997). Similarly, in a different study conducted on female primary school, high school and college students, physically attractive students were found to get better grades (Ritts et.al., 1992).

Familiarity between Student and Teacher or Student’s Family and Teacher (Blood Relations or Friendship)

Teachers may sometimes be the guardian, relative, or a family friend of the student. Favoritism is highly probable in such cases. In her paper, Mechtenberg (2006), states ” I consider a one shot cheap talk game with two different type of senders (biased teachers and fair teachers), two types of receivers (“normal” and “special pupils”) and uncertainty about the sender type on the side of the receiver. I demonstrate that the group of pupils who, in expectation, get either too much or too little encouragement will have less top achievers and a lower average achievement than the group of pupils who get a more accurate feedback message, even if the prior talent distribution is the same for both groups of pupils”. I assume that the discriminatory behavior has its roots in the preferences of those who exhibit this behavior. I personally think that “special pupils” are either favorites or victimsofdiscrimination.Theirtalents may blur with being teacher’s favorite.

Parallelism between the Ideology (Political or Religious) of Students or Their Family and the Teacher

Teachers may favor certain students with whom they share a certain political view, religion or sect. In such circumstances, they may give better grades to those who share their view or they may give worse grades to those who support another view or belong to a different religion or sect. It is believed that in the middle eastern countries favoritism and nepotism are regarded as part of everyday life. According to a survey done by the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) ’32 % of those surveyed indicated that they were asked to intervene, or one of their family members or their friends was asked to intervene, so that somebody can acquire a job (The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity, 2004).

Problem

Favoritism has been a rather popular research topic recently. An examination of the literature shows that most studies focus on the home, i.e. favoritism among children and interpersonal relationships. These studies were based on teacher and guardian opinions (Haris and Howard, 1983; Bank, 1987; McHaIe, Sloan & Simeonsson, 1986). At the same time, studies on practical classes at schools also exist (Roy and Roy, 2004). The study is different from the other studies in many ways. It examines the topic from a practical viewpoint. This study aims to clarify the concept of favoritism in classrooms by determining whether a) student success, b) gender c) parents occupying powerful positions, d) good economic status, e) physical appearance, f) holding similar ideologies to the teacher, and g) familiarity or blood relations between parents and teachers make a difference in teacher behaviors.

The aim of the study is to reveal whether students attending public high schools believe that teacher favoritism results from student characteristics. In other words, it aims to show whether student gender, success and economic status leads to a difference in the perception of teachers’ instruction, communication, discipline and evaluation behaviors.

Method

While most educational research can be classified as quantitative or qualitative, there are some additional types that they do not align well with either of these two classifications. These can be called analytical studies. Analytical research is a mode of inquiry in which events; ideas, concepts, or artifacts are investigating by analyzing documents, records, recordings, and other media. Like qualitative studies (some researchers classify analytical studies, as described here, as qualitative), contextual information is very important to accurate interpretation of the data (McMillan, 2004). In this study analytical method was used. This study takes as its population students attending public high schools affiliated to the National Education Directorate in Melikgazi, Kaysen. There are 12 public high schools in the town and, at the time of the study, 12,648 students were attending these schools. Due to the large size of the population,only those students attending 11th grade (senior students) were chosen for the study. As the number of these students was still high at 4,200, random sampling of students from 6 of the high schools was undertaken. A scale was employed to collect data which was sent to the randomly selected schools and administered by 20 students enrolled in the non-thesis MA program of Erciyes University Institute of Social Sciences. The respondents had one week to complete the scale. Students who had classes during this week and thus were attending school were invited to volunteer to complete the scale. A total of 896 students agreed to complete the questionnaire. The scale response rate was 99%.

Data Collection

The scale mentioned above was used to collect data. In developing this tool, the researcher first reviewed the literature on ethics in education and favoritism. Later, the researcher obtained the opinions about favoritism of twenty 11th grade students at a school which he visited for a conference. As a result of the literature review, a draft scale with 47 items was prepared. Following this, three lecturers specializing in Measurement and Evaluation and four specializing in Educational Management and Inspection at Erciyes University, Faculty of Education, Department of Educational Sciences were asked about the reliability, intelligibility and representativeness of the items on the scale in order to turn them into statements about teacher behaviors involving favoritism. The statements in the scale were scored as a 5-item Likert scale in the following way ” 1 =disagree totally” and “5=agree totally”.

Table 1

Post-Varimax Factor Loads and Reliability Analyses of Scale of Teachers’ Favoritism Behaviors in the Classroom

In order to test the structural validity of the scale, the data set was first given a factor analysis. The analysis started with 47 items and the initial results of the factor analysis showed that the factor loadings of 15 items were below .35. These items were consequently removed from the scale, and the remaining 32 items were given another factor analysis. As a result of principal components and Varimax rotation procedure, four factors were found on the scale with an (eigenvalue) of 1.00 or higher. The variance percentages accounted for by the factors were 43.46, 6.53,4.35 and 3.72 respectively. At the same time, in the preliminary validity studies of the scale, the congruity of the data obtained from the piloting of the tool with the sample was found to be 0.937 with KMO and 5106.056 with the Barlett Test at the level 0.000. Table 1 presents the items distributed to factors and factor loadings according to analysis and rotation results.

Composed of eight items and accounting for 43.46% of total variance, Factor I is called instruction. This factor includes situations where teachers engage in favoritism based on gender, success, parents occupying powerful positions, high economic status, physical attractiveness, familiarity with parents, and similar ideologies.

Accounting for 6.53% of the total variance and consisting of eight items, Factor [Eth] is named discipline. This factor includes situations where teachers engage in favoritism based on gender, success, parents occupying powerful positions, high economic status, physical attractiveness, familiarity with parents, and similar ideologies in overlooking violation of classroom rules.

Composed of eight items and accounting for4.35%of total variance.Factor III is called assessment. This factor includes situations where teachers engage in favoritism based on gender, success, parents occupying powerful positions, high economic status, physical attractiveness, familiarity with parents, and similar ideologies in assessing students.

Composed of eight items and accounting for 3.72% of total variance, Factor IV is called communication. This factor includes situations where teachers engage in favoritism based on gender, success, parents occupying powerful positions, high economic status, physical attractiveness, familiarity with parents, and similar ideologies in establishing communication with students.

Findings

A total of 896 students, 46% (n=416) females and 54% (n=480) males ,participated in the research. Concerning family earnings, 34% (n=307) had families with a monthly income of 500-1000 US Dollars or less, 43% (n=386) had families with a monthly income between 1000- 1500 Dollars, and the remaining 23% (n=204) had families with a monthly income of 1500 Dollars or more. The cumulative grade of 23% (n=210) of the participating students was between 3.00 and 4.00, that of 46% (n=408) was between 2.00-2.99 and that of the remaining 31% (n=278) was between 1.00 and 1.99.

Table 2 shows the students’ mean scores on the factors of instruction, discipline, communication and assessment, standard deviations and t-test values according to gender.

It was found that girls and boys did not differ statistically meaningfully in their perceptions of teacher behaviors with respect to instruction (t=-1.90, p> .05) and assessment (t=.47, p> .05); but that they differed meaningfully in theirperceptions of teachers’ discipline (t=-4.84, p

Table 2

Factor analysis according to gender

The analysis based on students’ cumulative grade point average (CGPA) revealed that in the factors instruction (F=9.6, p .05) and communication (F=I .7, p> .05). According to this, moderately successful students (CGPA 2.00-2.99) believed that teachers treated students differently based on their gender, and that they favored successful students, those with powerful parents, those who are well- off, those who are physically attractive, those whose parents are familiar and those who hold similar ideologies. On the other hand, successful students (CGPA 3.00-4.00) believed that teachers assessed their students differently based on their gender, and that they favored successful students, those with powerful parents, those who are well-off, those who are physically attractive, those whose parents are familiar and those who hold similar ideologies (Table 3).

Table 3

Factor Analysis According to Student Success

Table 4

Factor Analysis According to Students’ Economic Status

Student income is parallel to family income. The analysis that took into consideration family economic status showed that studentperceptions about teacher behaviors in the factors discipline (F=8.19, p

The strongest relationship was found between the factors discipline and assessment (r=.18; p

Discussion and Conclusion

This study aims to determine whether student success, gender, parents occupying powerful positions, good economic status, physical appearance, holding similar ideologies to the teacher, and familiarity or blood relations between parents and teachers make a difference in teacher behaviors. Teacher behaviors were treated in the dimensions of allowing students to speak out and practice in the classroom (instruction), violation of classroom rules and displaying undisciplined behaviors (discipline), establishing communication (communication), and assessing exams and classroom activities (assessment). Student perceptions pertaining to these dimensions were analyzed with respect to gender, economic status and student success.

No difference was found between the opinions of girls and boys about the factors instruction and assessment. In other words, both agreed with the characteristics about teacher behaviors during instruction and assessment. A difference was observed between the opinions of girls and boys in the discipline factor. Accordingly, girls agreed more than boys that stdent characteristics were influential in teacher behaviors when rules were violated or when there were discipline problems. In the communication factor, boys agreed more with the belief that student characteristics affected teacher behavior with respect to communication (Table 2).

Table 5

Correlations between factors

When student perceptions about the effects of student characteristics on teacher behavior were analyzed with respect to student success, those whose CGPA was between 2.00-2.99 were observed to agree more with the instruction factor; and those whose CGPA was between 3.00-4.00 agreed more with the assessment factor, as shown by the Turkey test.

With respect to the economic status of families, difference between the four factors was observed only in the discipline and assessment factors. Students whose families earned more than 1500 Dollars agreed less than others with the discipline factor; whereas those whose families earned between 500-1000 Dollars agreed more than other with the assessment factor, as shown by the Turkey test.

The only relationship which was not statistically meaningful appeared between the communication and assessment factors, according to correlation analysis (r=.04; p>.01). This is a noteworthy result. It implies that even though teachers may consider student characteristics when establishing communication in the classroom, this does not seem to be effective in the assessment of students.

Student characteristics and success affect teacher expectations. To illustrate, Jussim et.al. (1998) state that teachers usually give successful students more opportunities to speak out and learn. Roy and Roy (2004) emphasize that teacher favoritism does not happen willfully but through spontaneous positive feedback. In our study too, the students have said that students’ success was partially effective in teacher behaviors (during class time or practice). This may mean that students think successful students are teachers’ favorites. Thus, teachers need to make an effort towards egalitarianism during class time or practice time. Additionally, teachers may be treating students differently depending on their expectations from them. Oztiirk, Koc and Sahin (2003) have found that almost all teachers in their study (%93) treated high and low- expectation students differently.

Tauber (1997) states that teachers develop different expectations from and reactions towards the two genders. In addition to this, teacher attitudes and behaviors have also been shown to vary according to the physical attractiveness of students by Ritts et.al. (1992), therefore implying that physically attractive students get better grades on tests. In the current study, both girls and boys seemed to think that students’ gender is partially effective in teacher behaviors.

Ozturk et.al. (2002) attract our attention to the fact that when teachers know about students’ socio-economic background, they develop different expectations in favor of children coming from higher socio-economic levels.

Student perceptions with respect to sex, student success and economic situation show that favoritism doesexist in teacher behaviors, albeit only partially. Agreement from the perspective of all variables is on a moderate level, which should not be underestimated. Even though student characteristics may only partially affect teacher behaviors, this shows that it is of utmost importance to set classroom rules. As stated by Roy and Roy (2004), the prevention of favoritism in the classroom can be achieved through setting rules. If teachers follow these class rules rigorously, students will be less likely to think they favor certain students. Ojeca and Fernandez-Dols (2001) write that rules are very important in group relations and favoritism. Doyle (1986) views class rules as an important element of classroom management, thus emphasizing the significance of a well-managed class in efficient instruction. Therefore teachers need to establish a system of rules (discipline) before the semester starts (Aydm, 2006). As rules are there for everyone, they ensure the elimination of bias and allow the teacher to say no to individual requests. At the same time, they make the use of authority easier (Karip, 2002), which stops students from forming beliefs that the teacher engages in favoritism.

As a developing country and an EU candidate, Turkey is undertaking many educational reforms. A major reform has been promotion of ethical behavior among teachers. This study implicated that teachers working at general high schools do engage in favoritism. Although it is good that this does not happen to a great extent, this still shows a need for measures against favoritism. In order to overcome such behavior, the acquisition of ethical behavior must be emphasized in in-service teacher education programs. It is also important that teachers attach importance to the formation of rules in their classes. Forming them in a participatory manner with the students will make the rules more feasible.

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AsistProf.lsmail Aydogan, Assistant Professor, Education Faculty, Erciyes University, Kayseri-Turkey.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Professor Aydogan at aydogani @ erciyes .edu .tr

Copyright Journal of Instructional Psychology Jun 2008

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