Learn About: 21st Century | Charter Schools | Homework
Home / Edifier

The EDifier

September 26, 2017

Diversity in the teacher workforce comes down to retention, not just recruitment

Across the United States, as the growth of the minority student population outpaces that of the white student population, classrooms are becoming more and more diverse. While nonwhite students are now the majority in today’s classroom, this is far from true of the teaching profession. As of the 2011-2012 school year (the most recent data available), minority teachers made up just 17% of all elementary and secondary teachers. New evidence from the Learning Policy Institute suggests that in order to meet increasing demands for minority teachers, school leaders will need to focus their efforts on retention in addition to recruitment.

Emphasizing a teacher workforce that is more representative of the increasingly nonwhite student population is more than diversity for diversity’s sake. Rather, current research shows that students benefit in a variety of ways from a minority teacher. When minority students and teachers share the same race, students report an environment of increased expectations and enhanced cultural understanding, and may benefit from interacting with a role model that is demographically similar to themselves. Evidence even suggests that there may be a positive academic effect for students, with a same-race teacher boosting test scores by up to the equivalent of one school year.

As the impacts of minority teachers have become more widely recognized, much emphasis has been placed on the recruitment of minority teachers to ensure that their population is more reflective of today’s student population. LPI has found that these recruitment efforts have been rather successful, with the number of minority teachers nationally more than doubling between the 1980s and 2012. However, today’s minority teacher population still lags significantly behind the minority student population, with the proportion of minority teachers in the national teacher workforce increasing from about 12% to just over 17% in the same time period. A report out this month from the Learning Policy Institute decodes this puzzle, and suggests that districts need to look beyond recruitment efforts and toward retention in order to erase the minority teacher gap.

The research finds that minority teachers— particularly male minority teachers— are significantly more likely to change schools or leave the profession entirely, and that the high rate at which these teachers leave is undoing any positive gains made in minority teacher recruitment each year. LPI points to a particularly significant example of this problem: during the 2003-2004 school year, 47,600 minority teachers entered the classroom for the first time. However, by the following school year, 56,000 minority teachers had left teaching entirely— a full 20 percent more than had entered the profession in the previous year. With attrition rates so high, it is critical to examine what may be causing such a pattern.

Though it is true, as commonly stated, that minority teachers are more likely to teach in the most underserved communities, the teachers themselves pointed to a very different set of problems driving their departure. LPI found that the topics least correlated with high minority teacher attrition included issues like salary level, quality of professional development, and availability of classroom resources. Instead, the evidence points most strongly to poor working conditions: minority teachers report issues like the level of influence they feel over decision making in the school and degree of autonomy in the classroom as the main drivers in their decision to leave.

Fostering a workplace environment that respects the professionalism and autonomy of minority teachers appears to be key to retaining them for the future. Evidence also shows that, particularly in schools where most staff is white, support from administrators may also play a strong role in retaining minority teachers. As we find ourselves already settling into the school year, consider: in what ways are issues like influence over decision making, classroom autonomy, and administrator support emphasized? How should the workplace look this year in order to ensure retention of minority teachers next year?

October 1, 2015

Diversifying the teaching force

We know many of the qualities that define “good” teachers: subject matter knowledge, credentials, experience, and impact on learning. But according to a growing body of research, this list is incomplete without also assuring the teaching staff resembles the demographic make up of the students they serve. Let’s just say, we have a long way to go.

Our current public-school enrollment is very close to being majority-minority. In 2011-12, 51 percent of public K-12 students were white down from 59 percent 10 years before. In contrast, 82 percent of their teachers were white (see chart). In American cities, where students of color comprise a two-thirds majority, 71 percent of their teachers were white.  A full three-quarters were female.


Across the country, districts are facing teacher shortages, especially in key areas like special education and mathematics. The additional effort to increase the diversity of their staff may seem like making an already difficult job even harder. In its recent report on the subject, the Albert Shanker Institute acknowledged as much, stating that “our first priority must be to ensure that every student has the benefit of being taught by skilled, knowledgeable and caring teachers – of whatever race and ethnicity.” Nonetheless, they further maintain that diversity “should be a factor, and an important one at that.” This is especially so for the education of minority students.

Among the reasons cited by the Shanker Institute authors is that teachers who share a cultural experience with their students are better able to motivate and inspire them, and are less likely to “confuse cultural difference with cultural or intellectual disadvantage.”  The authors also refer to research suggesting that a demographic match between teachers and students improves students’ academic performance.

Evidence for this latter statement received a big boost earlier this year by researchers Anna Egalite, Brain Kisida and Marcus Winters who analyzed the relationship of what they call “own-race teachers” to student achievement. The authors had access to a huge database enabling them to link 92,000 Florida teachers to 3 million students over a seven year period. They tracked the performance of individual students while in classrooms with different teachers by race and ethnicity over several grades, and compared the impact of same-race to different-race assignments. In this way they have produced perhaps the most rigorous study to date of the effect of minority teachers on minority student achievement.

Here’s what they found: students perform higher in math and reading when they are assigned to teachers of the same race. The overall results are small, but statistically significant. There are differences by race, however. The performance of black, white and Asian students were significantly positive in math, but the effects were highest for black and Asian students.

Hispanic students were the exception. For this group of students, having an Hispanic teacher actually produced a negative effect. The researchers conjectured that this finding could be due to limitations in the data. They explain, the Florida Hispanic population is quite large and culturally diverse, including self-described Caribbeans, Mexicans, Central and South Americans. Grouping them into one ethnicity could therefore be masking important differences among them.

As virtually every researcher does, Egalite and her team call for more research to better understand the relationship between teachers and students by race. But for us lay people, the evidence is pretty clear that school districts should pay attention to recruiting a teaching force that is demographically representative of the community alongside their professional qualities.


Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Demographics,teachers — Tags: , — Patte Barth @ 12:42 pm

RSS Feed