Teaching Profession

Teacher Diversity Gap Not Easily Closed, Report Warns

By Madeline Will — August 18, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Updated 8/19 with Education Secretary John B. King Jr.'s statement

The path toward reaching a diverse teacher workforce is much steeper than has been previously acknowledged, a new report published by the Brookings Institution concludes.

Students of color make up about half of all public school students, yet just 18 percent of teachers are of color. Efforts to increase the diversity of the teaching profession have been heralded by the U.S. Department of Education and taken up by school districts across the country. But researchers and analysts from the Brown Center on Education Policy and the National Council on Teacher Quality found that the chances of significant progress in this realm are realistically very slim, even looking forward nearly 50 years.

The researchers found that, at the current rate, the difference in proportion between black teachers and black students in U.S. public schools (currently 9 percentage points) will remain about the same through 2060, while the gap between Hispanic teachers and Hispanic students (currently 18 percentage points) will actually increase by four points.

And if school districts simply focus on retaining black and Hispanic teachers—a commonly discussed strategy, since teachers of color have lower retention rates than white teachers—and achieve the same retention rate for teachers of color as for white teachers, the black diversity gap will only shrink by two percentage points by 2060. The Hispanic diversity gap will only shrink by 0.6 percentage points.

To truly fix the problem, the researchers write, the leaky teacher pipeline needs several significant patches. Students of color already complete college at lower rates than white students. And minority students tend to demonstrate less interest in the teaching profession—7 percent of white college students major in education, compared with 4 percent of black and of Hispanic college students. There are also racial gaps in master’s programs in education. Ninety-five percent of white college graduates who majored in education are interested in teaching, compared with 76 percent of black education graduates. The report doesn’t say what specific jobs the other graduates might be interested in, if not teaching, but it could be jobs with higher wages or other public service jobs.

Those discrepancies contribute to white education majors being hired at higher rates than graduates of color, but there are other reasons as well, the researchers say—including poor recruitment in minority communities, aspiring teachers of color being lured into other professions, and possibly a lower passing rate on licensing tests for black and Hispanic pre-service teachers.

Simply hiring more black and Hispanic teachers from the pool of available teachers of color does almost nothing to close the gap, the report found.

At the crux of the discussion of teacher diversity, the researchers wrote, should be raising college graduation rates among black and Hispanic students. And if more black and Hispanic students choose to enter the teaching profession through a bachelor’s, master’s, or alternate certification programs, that could make a signficant reduction in the diversity gaps, particularly among Hispanics. Still, that objective could be hard to achieve, the authors warned: Other professions are recruiting diverse candidates, and many students of color might be wooed by more lucrative career paths.

If all strategies were combined—and black and Hispanic prospective teachers go through the pipeline at the same rate as white people—there would be parity between black teachers and black students by 2044. Hispanic parity would be close to being achieved by 2060.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. issued a statement on Thursday saying that students of color benefit from having teachers of color who serve as positive role models. “But we also know that society benefits when all students, regardless of their background, grow up seeing diverse adults in positions of authority. We must do more to support teachers of color at all points across the teacher pipeline so students today can benefit from and become the teachers and mentors of tomorrow.” [Updated, 8/19 11 am]

The authors offer the caveat that, in their own view, the end goal should not be that every student is taught by a teacher of the same race but that all students should interact regularly with teachers of their own and different races and ethnicities. Also, the report does not go into the issue of teacher quality—and the authors argue that hastily lowering standards to diversify the teacher workforce is not constructive solution.

Ultimately, district-level retention and hiring strategies alone are not enough to achieve parity, the report concluded. Boosting the college graduation rate of students of color and persuading them to consider a career in teaching would be more effective, the authors said—so making the teaching profession more attractive to potential teacher candidates, through salary increases and better working conditions, could go a long way.

“Achieving a diverse teacher workforce must be a long-term policy goal with a suite of long-term strategies put in place to help minorities succeed in college and to encourage them to return to the classroom to help the next generation of students,” the report states. “Our failure to do so will keep us stubbornly in the same vicious cycle in which low teacher diversity contributes in a myriad of ways to low minority student success in K-12 and college, which results once again in low teacher diversity.”

Source: Chart via Brookings Institution report

More on Teacher Diversity:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.