Teachers have expressed racist views of their students, including one who told a researcher that he watched a police reality TV show and, "the suspects will always be Maori".
The views have saddened the president of a Maori principals' association, who says he is not surprised and such attitudes put students on a path to failure.
However, a teachers' union - while condemning the comments - says they come from a small study group and the vast majority of the profession work hard to address prejudice.
Hana Turner was shocked by the attitudes of some of the teachers she interviewed for a thesis looking at expectations for students' success.
Ms Turner surveyed teachers for her thesis "Teacher Expectations, Ethnicity and the Achievement Gap", part of a master of education degree at the University of Auckland.
Responses from some of the 15 secondary school mathematics teachers left her reeling.
Teachers' expectations were highest for Asian students, followed by Pakeha and Pasifika students.
"But then much, much lower than that were the Maori students," Ms Turner said. That was at odds with the fact that Maori students' actual achievement was equivalent to that of Pasifika students and 20 per cent were achieving at an above-average level.
"[Teachers] had very low expectations for them. They blamed the students themselves for not being as competent as other ethnic groups and they blamed the students' families," Ms Turner said.
"They said that the parents weren't interested in their children's education and that many Maori had criminal tendencies and would probably end up in jail."
Statements from the thesis included one from a teacher who said, "I watch this Police 10/7 [television show] ... The suspects will always be Maori."
Peter Witana, president of Te Akatea NZ Maori Principals' Association, said he was saddened but not surprised by the findings.
President of the Post Primary Teachers Association Angela Roberts said there was no place for racism in schools and she found such attitudes far from widespread. "My colleagues work really hard as a profession to address prejudice and stereotyping."
The study involved 15 maths teachers and 361 Year 9 and Year 10 pupils recruited from five Auckland secondary schools, three low-decile, one mid-decile and one high-decile.