Teaching Profession

U.S. Ed. Dept. Report Finds Decreasing Diversity Across Teacher Pipeline

By Madeline Will — May 06, 2016 3 min read
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The teacher pipeline is riddled with holes when it comes to diversity in the profession, a new U.S. Department of Education report finds.

Full-service and pre-service teachers of color are falling out at every stage of the pipeline, according to the report on “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce,” which was released today to coincide with the department’s National Summit on Teacher Diversity.

First, bachelor’s degree students are less diverse than high school graduates—38 percent of undergraduates are students of color, compared to 43 percent of high school graduates. Then, only a quarter of students enrolled in teacher- preparation programs are students of color. And bachelor’s degree completion rates for students who major in education are significantly lower for black and Hispanic students than for white students—there is a 30 percentage point completion gap between black and white students, and a 20 percentage-point gap between Hispanic and white education majors.

Only 18 percent of public school teachers are individuals of color, even as nonwhite students now outnumber white students in U.S. public schools. Black male teachers are the most underrepresented group, with only 2 percent of teachers comprising this demographic. Teacher-retention rates are also higher for white teachers than for teachers of color.

The report concludes by highlighting several of the Obama administration’s initiatives to boost educational attainment, including measures to provide two years of free community college in participating states and two years of free or significantly reduced tuition at participating historically black colleges and universities.

The report also spotlighted a couple of school systems that are working to increase teacher diversity, including the Boston district. Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. spoke with a group of Boston public school teachers about the district’s efforts to attract and retain more diverse teachers. As my colleague Liana Heitin reported, King was there to listen for suggestions on how to improve the school experience for teachers of color in order to raise retention rates—the district’s rate of teachers of color is about 20 percentage points higher than the national average. A quarter of the new teachers hired by the district in the 2015-16 school year were black.

One of Boston Public Schools’ main initiatives to diversify its teacher workforce is the Boston Public High School to Teacher Program, which identifies high school students who would make great teachers and provides them with mentors, college prep courses, half their tuition, and eventually, if they are successful, teaching jobs in the district. Eighty-seven percent of the participants are black or Latino.

In his short time as education secretary, King has been vocal about the need for a more diverse national teaching corps, which he says contributes to better outcomes in schools.

“It’s important for students of color to have role models who look like them and share common experiences,” he said in a statement with the report. “It’s just as important for all students to see teachers of color in leadership roles in their classrooms and communities.”

The 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes, who is black, has also spoken out about the need to recruit more minority teachers and plans to make that a component of her year-long tour of U.S. schools.

“As a child growing up in an urban poverty stricken environment, I only came in contact with one minority teacher. This contact greatly influenced the person I became,” she wrote in her application for the award. “It is very difficult to explain the feelings of isolation that come when you are in a school and the faculty is not reflective of your culture or heritage.”

Update, May 12, 2016: This post has been updated to clarify that of the students in teacher-prep programs, 25 percent are students of color.

Source: Image of National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes courtesy of Waterbury Public Schools; chart via the U.S. Department of Education

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