Increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of teachers is an issue of growing concern in public education. Today, 80% of teachers are white, while more than half of those who attend public schools are students of color. There are real equity concerns stemming from the discrepancy: Teachers are just as likely to have racial biases as non-teachers, research shows, and those biases can manifest in everything from curriculum choices to discipline disparities and who gets called on in the classroom. White teachers are significantly less likely than Black teachers to expect their Black students will earn a four-year college degree, one study found.
Research has shown that all students benefit from having teachers of color. Black and brown students in particular benefit academically and emotionally from having a teacher who looks like them. For example, Black students are more likely to be placed in gifted education programs if they have a Black teacher, and less likely to receive suspensions, expulsions or detentions from Black teachers.
While the number of Latino teachers has increased slightly in recent years — although it has not kept pace with the rising Latino student population — the percentage of Black teachers has stalled at around 7%. (Black men make up just 2% of the teacher workforce.) Many scholars say the persistent lack of Black teachers in the profession can be traced to the aftermath of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision. Tens of thousands of Black teachers and principals lost their jobs as white superintendents began to racially integrate schools but balked at hiring Black educators.
Recent years have seen an increasing number of efforts to recruit a diverse teaching staff, including “grow your own” programs, in which school districts provide opportunities for paraprofessionals or other staff to become licensed educators or build a pipeline for interested high school students of color. At least 11 states offer financial incentives to aspiring teachers of color, such as scholarships, grants or forgivable loans.
But to make strides in closing the diversity gap, experts say district leaders must also focus on retaining teachers of color, who leave the profession at higher rates than white teachers. Black and brown teachers commonly say they leave because they feel isolated, undervalued or pigeonholed into a disciplinarian role instead of being appreciated for their content expertise. Also, many teachers of color are concentrated in hard-to-staff schools serving high-poverty communities, where there can often be a lack of resources and support.
To keep Black and brown teachers in the classroom, some districts have created mentorship opportunities, where new teachers are matched with veteran teachers who provide support. Experts also stress the importance of creating a culturally affirming school environment, where such teachers feel accepted, supported and empowered to speak up.
Updated June 2021.
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