As the nation’s classrooms have diversified, nonwhite students have come to make up a majority of public school students. The complexion of the teaching force has been much slower to change—whites comprise 82 percent of the nation’s public school teachers.
Two struggling urban districts in upstate New York—Rochester and Buffalo—are looking to shrink that racial gap between teachers and students in hopes that doing so will improve outcomes for their mostly black and Latino student bodies. But diversifying a school system’s teaching force can be both daunting and costly. To find a more diverse applicant pool, the districts are leaving behind predominately white Upstate New York and are headed south.
“We’re working right now with the Buffalo City School District, planning to have a tour going down to historically black colleges [and universities] sometime in the month of March,” Harry Kennedy, the chief of human resources for the Rochester City School District, told WHEC, the NBC-affiliated television station in Rochester. “In addition to that, we’re looking to also go to Puerto Rico.”
While white students make up just 10 percent of Rochester’s school enrollment, 80 percent of Rochester educators are white. As for why the districts are looking to diversify their ranks, Kennedy said: "[We want] people that have a common understanding and a common knowledge of the challenges that a diverse family faces.”
Not all Rochester parents are convinced a teacher’s ethnic background matters. A teacher’s race “shouldn’t matter. ... Effective teaching is what should matter,” Rowena De Burgomaster told WHEC.
But research has tended to back up the districts’ view. Researchers have linked a wide range of negative consequences to this racial mismatch. For example, in a 2015 study, a trio of researchers found that nonblack teachers tend to have much lower expectations for black students than black educators.
This isn’t a particularly new endeavor for district administrators around the nation, and despite years of concerted efforts to diversify the teaching force, the percentage of nonwhite teachers has hardly budged. In 2000, 84 percent of the country’s teachers identified as white. That means the number of nonwhite teachers has only increased by 2 percentage points since the turn of the century.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.