Last week, the Center for American Progress published a report on teacher diversity, finding that every state has a teacher diversity gap. In other words, there is a large difference between the race/ethnicity of the American teacher workforce and that of the students they serve. While students of color (students who are not non-Hispanic white) make up more than 40 percent of the public school population, teachers of color make up only seven percent.
According to the report, “more than 20 states have differences of 25 percentage points or more between the diversity of their teacher and student populations.” Notably, the states with the largest gap in the teacher diversity index – New York, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, and California – are more heavily populated with Hispanic residents. In fact, the widest diversity gap is among Hispanic teachers and students: More than 21 percent of students are Hispanic compared to only 2?percent of teachers.
This is in part due to the fact that the portion of Hispanic students in public schools doubled from 1989 to 2009. But the gap can also be explained by lower rates of academic achievement and college graduation among Latino students, which limits the number of Latinos who enter the teaching force.
And sometimes, racial discrimination works against Latino teacher candidates. (A 2004 study, for example, found that “white-sounding” names received more callbacks for a job.)
Another explanation may be lower satisfaction among teachers of color. The study found that African-American, Hispanic, as well as Asian and Pacific Islander teachers were less likely to be satisfied with their salaries or with how their schools were managed.
Why it matters
A large body of evidence shows why a diverse teaching force can make a difference for our students.
First, researchers argue that teachers of color serve as important role models for all students. Seeing teachers of color can not only improve the confidence and self esteem of racially similar students, but it can also help show white students that adults of minority backgrounds contribute positively to society. Second, some studies show that a diverse teaching faculty can improve academic outcomes for students of colors, including better attendance, fewer suspensions, higher test scores, and high school completion rates.
Finally, teachers of color are more likely to teach in difficult-to-staff, high poverty schools and less likely to leave those schools in the long term. The research indicates that the success of these teachers can be linked to their ability to hold high expectations, use culturally relevant teaching, and develop caring relationships with minority students.
In response to changing demographics, many school districts across the country are turning attention to increasing the diversity of their teacher workforce. The Center for American Progress recommends two different strategies. The first is to expand recruitment programs and alternative certification programs. Many recruiters, for example, are targeting students at Hispanic-serving colleges. Informing potential candidates of alternative routes towards certification is also important. In 2008, 25 percent of Hispanic teachers came from alternative routes versus 11 percent of white teachers.
The second recommendation is to improve the experiences of teachers of color. Increasing salaries and providing more support to teachers in high poverty schools may help attract candidates and more importantly, keep them in the classroom beyond one to two years.