New Report on Lack of Teacher Diversity in the U.S.

A new report by the Shanker Institute brings attention a major problem in education: while the percentage of students of color has been rising, the number of teachers of color has failed to keep up. For black educators, the situation is even worse. Over the past decade, the number of black educators has declined in all the cities surveyed in this study. In some places, like New Orleans and Washington, D.C., that drop has been huge. 

Greater diversity amongst teachers has been shown not only to help students of color, but also white students. Teachers of color tend to have higher expectations for students of color, serve as important role models, expose students to a larger variety of cultural and racial groups, and help to establish stronger communities of color as well. These contributions are valuable to student success, and show how essential teacher diversity can be. As students of color currently make up over half of students in public education (and that number is projected to rise), it becomes even more important.

However, the number of black educators has only dropped over the past decade. In New Orleans, for instance, the number of black teachers dropped by 62%. While New Orleans' extreme losses had much to do with Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent charter takeover, the report also found that the biggest problem was not in attracting black teachers, but rather in retaining them. According to the report, the main complaints that led to leaving the profession were the lack of autonomy and the lack of a voice in decision-making. 

The report focuses on nine major U.S. cities, providing case studies that look not only at the ratio of teachers of color to students of color, but also the distribution of both across schools and districts. Of course, this problem is not isolated to the major metropolitan areas examined in the report—but looking at them highlights what are likely country-wide problems. 

By illustrating the depth of this problem, the report also provides valuable insight into why we need to increase teacher diversity. As it says: 

Those who follow the nation’s education policy debates know that, for the past several years, “teacher quality” has become the dominant paradigm for improving schools. What constitutes “good” teachers, how they are identified, whether and how their test score effects can be quantified, whether they are born or made, and how they can be made better all have been subjects of intense debate. 

The implications of the studies we review here—and the data described later in this report—are that issues of teacher quality and educational opportunity cannot adequately be considered irrespective of student and teacher demographics. There is reason to believe that, throughout their school careers, every student in the nation would benefit from access to teachers and role models who not only look like them but reflect the diverse society in which they must learn to live, work and prosper.

You can find the entire report here

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