Teaching Profession

Black and Latino Students Are Still More Likely to Have Inexperienced Teachers, Study Says

By Sarah Schwartz — December 15, 2021 4 min read
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Black and Latino students are still more likely than their peers to have teachers with one year or less of experience in the classroom, despite years-long federal efforts to change that trend, concludes a new analysis. The disparities are the largest for Black students.

The two reports from the Education Trust, a civil rights group that advocates for more accountability of low-performing school districts, look at data from the U.S. Department of Education’s 2017-18 Civil Rights Data Collection.

They compare rates of novice teachers—defined as those in their first or second year of teaching—in schools with high percentages of Black and Latino students to schools with lower percentages of Black and Latino students.

When newer teachers are unevenly distributed in this way, the report argues, students of color are losing out.

New teachers are less experienced than those who have been in the classroom for longer, and research has shown that teachers with more years under their belt can do more to increase student motivation and academic achievement. And if the same students have new teachers year after year, the turnover can have negative effects on instruction.

“This is a racial justice issue,” said Sarah Mehrotra, a P-12 research and policy analyst at EdTrust, and the lead author of the reports. “These disparities have been happening for way too long.”

Addressing them should be a priority for states and districts, she said, “especially now as we’re facing these labor shortages and as we’re looking to pandemic recovery.”

This new analysis comes on the heels of several years of initiatives to fix these disparities, because the patterns aren’t new: Analyses of 2011-12 data from the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights found that Black, Latino, American Indian, and Native Alaskan students were more likely than white students to attend schools with a higher concentration of novice teachers. And again, Black students faced the sharpest inequities on this front.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education launched the Excellent Educators for All Initiative, which required states to develop teacher-equity plans that would ensure low-income students had access to good teachers. And the Every Student Succeeds Act, the current version of the main federal K-12 law, states that every student should be taught by an effective teacher.

“When we take a hard look at this data, we see that there are really clear inequitable gaps. … I think this really suggests that we haven’t made enough progress,” Mehrotra said.

Findings show different patterns for Black, Latino students

The EdTrust reports lay out why these disparities are such an intractable, systemic problem.

“Decades of discriminatory federal policy has led to an increasingly racially segregated school system in which students of color are concentrated in schools that are under‐resourced,” the report’s authors write. These schools tend to offer teachers less support and may not be able to provide the same level of compensation as schools in better-resourced districts.

“Due in part to poor working conditions and a lack of support, all teachers, particularly teachers of color, tend to leave these schools at a higher rate,” the report reads.

The authors found that, on average, schools with the most Black students employ more novice teachers and more uncertified teachers than schools with the least. In schools with the largest Black student enrollments, 15 percent of teachers are novice teachers. In schools with the smallest, 10 percent of teachers are novices.

In some states, though, the gaps are much larger. See the state-by-state breakdown:

The picture is somewhat different for Latino students. In over half of all states, these same gaps exist: schools with more Latino students also have more novice teachers.

But in just a few states, those trends are reversed. In Louisiana and the District of Columbia, for example, schools with large Latino student bodies have fewer novice teachers than other schools. It’s unclear why the numbers are so different in these few areas, Mehrotra said.

See the state-by-state breakdown for Latino students:

The researchers also looked at the schools with the most novice teachers, which they defined as schools where 20 percent or more of teachers were in their first or second year in the profession.

Across the country, Black students were more likely to attend those schools. In a few states—Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Washington—Latino students were also much more likely to attend these schools than other students.

Districts should ‘really look at what teacher supports they’re giving’

For states and districts addressing this issue, the first step is to gather data, Mehrotra said. Who’s entering the teacher workforce, and how many are staying? How many teachers are novices, and where are they placed? Education agencies can use that data to set new goals, Mehrotra said.

The reports offer a host of policy solutions, from paying teachers more to work in high-need districts, to providing teachers with more mentoring, to supporting and hiring more school leaders of color—who are more likely to attract and retain teachers of color.

But the pandemic adds a layer of challenge to any efforts to nurture and keep good teachers, said Mehrotra.

“Right now, districts are facing this immediate problem of pandemic-related burnout,” she said.

Federal COVID-relief money can play a role here, she added. State leaders could put stimulus dollars toward retention efforts during this period, and districts could spend on social-emotional supports for students, which would take some of the burden off of teachers.

“One thing I would encourage districts to do is to really look at what teacher supports they’re giving right now,” she said.

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