Equity & Diversity Report Roundup

Black Principals Could Boost Teacher Diversity

By Denisa R. Superville — June 11, 2019 2 min read
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School districts struggle to hire staff members who reflect changing student demographics. Could the answer lie in developing a strategy to hire more principals of color?

A working paper by Jason Grissom, an associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, and Brendan Bartanen, a doctoral student at the university, strongly suggests it could.

They found that having a black principal at a school increased the likelihood that newly hired teachers would be black by 5 percentage points to 7 percentage points and that changing from a white principal to a black principal increased the percentage of black teachers by 3 percentage points on average.

Black teachers stayed in their roles longer in schools led by black principals—reducing black-teacher mobility by 2 percent to 5 percent.

Over time, changing a school’s leader from a white to a black principal increased the share of black teachers in a school after five years by 5.3 percentage points in Missouri and 5.2 percentage points in Tennessee, the two states that were the subject of the research. The researchers used educator data from 1999 to 2016 in Missouri and from 2007 to 2017 in Missouri. They also looked at earlier data to analyze tenure and experience.

The increase in the share of black teachers was accomplished through an increase in the hiring and retention of black teachers.

Both black and white principals were more likely to hire teachers who are the same race as they are. That was more evident among teachers who were transferring from one school to another than with novice teachers, the researchers found.

They also found evidence to suggest that having black teachers increased achievement in math for black students. And even in the absence of hiring a black teacher, positive math gains occurred for black students under a black principal.

The paper, “School Principal Race and the Hiring and Retention of Racially Diverse Teachers,” was published this month by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.

“It does suggest that hiring more black principals could be one way to get to increased diversity of the workforce in a school,” Grissom said.

“Certainly we see that in Missouri and in Tennessee—when black principals come in, the composition changes.”

Although students of color make up the majority of those enrolled in the nation’s public schools, the educator workforce looks very different.

About 80 percent of teachers are white, and only about 20 percent of principals are people of color.

A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2019 edition of Education Week as Black Principals Could Boost Teacher Diversity

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