Students of color now represent more than half of all public school students. Despite this increasing diversity of the K–12 population—and the nation as a whole—the teaching workforce remains predominantly white, according to a new report from the Albert Shanker Institute.
Between 1987 and 2012, the share of the teaching force represented by teachers of color increased from 12 percent to 17 percent nationwide, according to The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education. Although teachers of color still represent a relatively small share of the overall educator workforce, the growth rate for teachers of color was more than twice the growth rate for white teachers during the twenty-five years analyzed in the report.
Growth in the number of teachers of color also exceeded growth in the number of students of color as well. Between 1987 and 2008, for instance, the share of students of color in the K–12 population increased by 77 percent, while the share of teachers of color in public schools increased by 97 percent. Latino students and teachers experienced the greatest percentage increases during that time; the share of Latino students increased by 159 percent, while the share of Latino teachers increased by 245 percent.
Although teachers of color gained ground in the workforce, they still “remain significantly underrepresented relative to the students they serve,” according to the report. During School Year (SY) 2011–12, African Americans represented 14.4 percent of public school students, but only 6.4 percent of public school teachers. Similarly, Latinos represented 21.1 percent of all students, but only 7.5 percent of all educators.
Moreover, “[w]hile there has been a dramatic increase in [the number of] minority teachers, this growth has not been equally distributed across different types of schools,” the report continues. On average, teachers of color work primarily in schools that serve high percentages of students of color and students from low-income families. During SY 2011–12, nearly two-thirds of teachers of color worked in schools where three-quarters or more of students also were of color, the report says. Similarly, 62 percent of teachers of color worked in schools where at least 60 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch.
Even though teachers of color worked in high-need schools at disproportionate rates, they still represented only 31 percent of all teachers working in high-poverty schools and 40 percent of teachers in schools that serve mostly students of color, the report notes. So while “efforts over recent decades to recruit more minority teachers and place them in schools serving disadvantaged and minority students have been very successful,” the report states, “there continues to be a persistent racial-ethnic parity gap between the percentage of minority students and the percentage of minority teachers in the U.S. school system.”
That gap, however, is not a result of districts failing to recruit teachers of color. Instead, the teacher-student parity gap is a result of attrition. Although teachers of color joined the profession at higher rates than white teachers during the years analyzed in the report, they also left schools at higher rates too, as the graph from the report shows below. (Click on the image for a larger version).
The attrition rate is particularly profound for African American teachers. In addition to analyzing national trend data, the Shanker Institute report examines teacher diversity in nine urban school districts: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. The report finds that the proportion of African American teachers declined in each city between 2002 and 2012, from a decline of 1 percentage point in Cleveland to a decline of nearly 28 percentage points in Washington, DC.
Although teachers’ reasons for changing schools or leaving the profession vary, nationwide more than half of teachers of color said they departed their schools because of job dissatisfaction or a desire to pursue other career opportunities either in or out of education, the report says. Specifically, teachers who reported having less classroom autonomy and lower levels of collective faculty input in school decisions were more likely to leave their schools, the report states.
“While there is reason to believe that Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students would be the greatest beneficiaries of a diverse teaching force, there is evidence that all students—and our democracy at large—would benefit from a teaching force that reflects the full diversity of the U.S. population,” the report says. “But recruitment alone has not solved the problem of minority teacher shortages …. Improving the retention of minority teachers recruited into teaching, by addressing the factors that drive them out, could prevent the loss of recruitment resources invested and lessen the need for more recruitment initiatives.”
The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education is available at http://www.shankerinstitute.org/resource/teacherdiversity.