Teacher Workforce Lacks Diversity, Damaging Student Achievement


While America’s public schools are becoming increasingly more diverse, a new report released by the Center for American Progress finds that nearly every state is experiencing a large and growing teacher diversity gap, or a significant difference between the number of students of color and teachers of color.


“Thousands of Black and Latino adults would love to be teachers, but there are all sorts of barriers which make it difficult to get into the profession,” said teacher educator Kitty Kelly Epstein, a professor at Holy Names University in Oakland.


If the country truly wants a diverse teaching force there needs to be policy change,” she said. “Choose adults who are committed and effective with youngsters; end the multiple, irrelevant standardized tests; value the languages and wisdom which diverse people bring to the profession, and stop expecting folks to work for free for a year as a student teacher.”


The report released Monday revisits a similar Center for American Progress study from 2011. When the original report was released, students of color made up more than 40 percent of the school age-population, while teachers of color were only 17 percent of the teaching force. The report shows that since 2011, the gap between teachers and students of color has continued to grow.


Over the past three years, the demographic divide between teachers and students of color has increased by 3 percentage points, and today, students of color make up almost half of the public school population.


“The student population of America’s schools may look like a melting pot, but our teacher workforce looks like it wandered out of the 1950s. It’s overwhelmingly white,” said Ulrich Boser, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the report ”We know from research that students of color do better academically if they are taught by teachers of color.”


The report, “Teacher Diversity Revisited,” includes state-by-state data documenting the teacher diversity gap across the nation. An analysis of the data reveals the following key findings: Almost every state has a significant diversity gap. In California, 73 percent of students are kids of color, but only about 29 percent are teachers of color. Maryland has the same problem, although the numbers are a bit better – more than 55 percent of students are kids of color, while just around 17 percent are teachers of color.


The Hispanic teacher population has larger demographic gaps relative to students. In Nevada, for instance, just 9 percent of teachers were Hispanic. In contrast, the state’s student body was 39 percent Hispanic. Diversity gaps are large within districts. For the first time, the researchers examined district-level data in California, Florida, and Massachusetts. These three states account for 20 percent of all students in the United States, and it turns out that the gaps within districts are often larger than those within states.


A companion report also released by CAP and Progress 2050, describes how the shortcomings of today’s education system and the underachievement of many of today’s students of color shrink the future supply of the teachers of color. The report, “America’s Leaky Pipeline for Teachers of Color,” finds that fundamental constraints limit the potential supply of highly effective teachers of color. Students of color have significantly lower college enrollment rates than do white students. In addition, a relatively small number of students of color enroll in teacher education programs each year.


Finally, teacher trainees who are members of communities of color often score lower on licensure exams that serve as passports to teaching careers. Furthermore, the report reveals that teachers of color leave the profession at a much higher rate than their non-Hispanic white peers. Those who leave mention a perceived lack of respect for teaching as a profession, lagging salary levels, and difficult working conditions.


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