Recruitment & Retention

Can Money Help Attract More Diverse Teachers? Only Sometimes, Analysis Finds

By Madeline Will — March 22, 2018 4 min read
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What works—and what doesn’t work—to attract nonwhite candidates into the teaching profession?

School district leaders and state education chiefs have been trying to figure this out for years now, especially because research shows that having a teacher from similar demographic backgrounds has social and academic benefits for students, most of whom are nonwhite. A new analysis from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution found that when it comes to financial incentives, only certain ones make a difference in recruiting more diverse teachers to the profession.

Offering relocation assistance is the strongest predictor of a more diverse teacher workforce, the analysis found—followed closely by student loan forgiveness, bonuses for excellence in teaching, and bonuses for teaching in less desirable locations (for example, high-poverty schools). Those incentives are associated with increases of 2 to 4 percentage points in the number of nonwhite teachers at a school.

Other incentives appear to be less effective: Signing bonuses, finder’s fees to existing staff members for referring a new teacher, rewards for earning a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification, and bonuses for teaching in shortage fields do not significantly impact teacher diversity.

About 40 percent of public schools across the country have zero nonwhite teachers on staff, according to the Center for American Progress—yet over half of public school students are nonwhite.

See also: Teacher Diversity Gap Poses a Steep Climb

The Brown Center conducted the analysis by using school- and district-level data from the nationally representative 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey; the center’s sample included 4,020 school districts and 6,449 schools. Just 2.6 percent of districts offer relocation assistance, and about the same amount offer student loan forgiveness. About 11 percent offer bonuses for excellence in teaching and 5.6 percent reward teachers for teaching in less desirable schools.

Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of districts award bonuses for obtaining National Board certification, about 13 percent offer bonuses for filling shortage-area positions, and almost 4 percent offer signing bonuses. Less than 2 percent offer finder’s fees.

Among urban school districts, 61 percent offered at least one type of incentive, the analysis found. In other locales, about 40 percent of districts offered at least one. The average school in the sample reports that 16 percent of teachers on staff are nonwhite.

It’s important to note that this analysis shows a correlation, not a causation. But why did certain incentives appear to work better than others? Researchers wrote that nonwhite college graduates are significantly more likely than whites to have more student loan debt—so financial incentives like loan forgiveness and relocation assistance might be particularly appealing. Researchers also speculated that schools that are eligible for the “less desirable” location bonus had higher rates of student poverty and were more diverse.

“Because minority teachers tend to cluster in schools with higher levels of minority students, regardless of the presence of an incentive, a bonus for being in those schools should promote recruitment and retention among teachers that are already quite diverse,” the researchers wrote.

Finally, the researchers wrote that they were surprised that rewarding excellence in teaching promotes teacher diversity, because existing research shows that nonwhite teachers perform disproportionately lower on teacher evaluations. But some experts say that selectivity and diversity do not have to be competing goals, and in fact, can be mutually reinforcing.

Efforts by State Chiefs

Meanwhile, the Council of Chief State School Officers has announced the creation of a nine-state network—the Diverse and Learner-Ready Teachers Initiative—to both diversify the teacher workforce and ensure that all educators are culturally responsive in their practice by 2020. The state chiefs will connect over the next year to create plans to revise, enact, or remove policies related to these goals. They will also receive individualized support from other experts, via CCSSO.

The states are: Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, and New York.

This work is concurrent with CCSSO’s other initiative, in which 11 states committed to working to reach parity between their own nonwhite student and teacher populations by 2040.

Mississippi State Superintendent Carey White said in a statement that the state’s education department has set a goal of increasing the number of nonwhite teachers in critical shortage school districts by 25 percent by 2025. This network, she said, will help the state learn best practices.

And Matthew Blomstedt, Nebraska’s education commissioner, said in a statement that this work will help the Cornhusker State “build a strategy to engage minority teachers, communities, post-secondary, and school officials to overcome barriers to students entering the teaching profession and overcome systemic racial and ethnic bias in the education of students.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.