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The differential effect of the teacher–student interpersonal relationship on student outcomes for students with different ethnic backgrounds


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Perry den Brok, Eindhoven School of Education, Eindhoven University of Technology, Room: Traverse 3.46, PO Box 513, 5600 MB Eindhoven, The Netherlands (e-mail:



The differential effectiveness of schools and teachers receives a growing interest, but few studies focused on the relevance of student ethnicity for this effectiveness and only a small number of these studies investigated teaching in terms of the teacher–student interpersonal relationship. Furthermore, the methodology employed often restricted researchers to investigating direct effects between variables across large samples of students.


This study uses causal modelling to investigate associations between student background characteristics, students' perceptions of the teacher–student interpersonal relationship, and student outcomes, across and within several population subgroups in Dutch secondary multi-ethnic classes.

Methods and sample

Multi-group structural equation modelling was used to investigate causal paths between variables in four ethnic groups: Dutch (N = 387), Turkish first- and second-generation immigrant students (N = 267), Moroccan first and second generation (N = 364), and Surinamese second-generation students (N = 101).


Different structural paths were necessary to explain associations between variables in the different (sub) groups. Different amounts of variance in student attitudes could be explained by these variables.


The teacher–student interpersonal relationship is more important for students with a non-Dutch background than for students with a Dutch background. Results suggest that the teacher–student relationship is more important for second generation than for first-generation immigrant students. Multi-group causal model analyses can provide a better, more differentiated picture of the associations between student background variables, teacher behaviour, and student outcomes than do more traditional types of analyses.