According to government estimates, students of color are now the majority in U.S. public schools. But as the percentage of students of color grows, the same isn’t true for teachers of color. In fact, as this post argues, it is past time for the country to put a new focus on recruiting and retaining teachers of color. The author, Travis J. Bristol, explains why it matters to have a diverse teaching force and provides recommendations for how to accomplish it.
Bristol is a former high school English teacher in New York City public schools and a teacher educator with the Boston Teacher Residency program. He is now a research and policy fellow at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. His research interests focus on the practices that support teacher and student learning and the policies that enable and constrain teacher workplace experiences and retention. The Washington Post, Education Week, NPR, and NBC News have highlighted findings from Bristol’s recent study that examined how black male teachers’ school-based experiences affected their job satisfaction and decisions to stay or leave the teaching profession. In the fall, Dr. Bristol will join the faculty of the Boston University School of Education as an assistant professor. Follow him on Twitter @tjacksonbristol
By Travis J. Bristol
There is a troubling trend in education that is not getting enough attention: the growth of Latino teachers has not kept pace with the rising Latino student population — and the number of black teachers is shrinking.
A recent Albert Shanker Institute report found that over a 10-year period, black teachers, when compared to teachers of other racial/ethnic groups, left the profession in nine urban districts at alarming rates.
For example, from 2002-2012, 15 percent of black teachers left schools in New York City, while 62 percent did so in New Orleans. Terrenda White, an assistant professor at University Colorado-Boulder, refers to this phenomenon as the “displacement of black teachers.” By contrast, only 1.9 percent of white teachers left New York City over this same period; in New Orleans, there was a 3.3 percent increase in the number of white teachers.
The number of Latino teachers has not declined as precipitously as black teachers. However, the disproportionate overall representation of Latino teachers to the growing number of Latino students in U.S. public schools is a matter of great concern. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 7.8 percent of teachers are Latino, while 25.8 percent of students are Latino. Similar to the representation gap between Latino teachers and students, there are almost three times as many Asian students in our nation’s schools as Asian teachers.
Why should we care that the demographic make-up of America’s teaching force does not mirror the racial/ethnic diversity of our students? Shouldn’t the quality of the teacher matter more than the teacher’s race in improving learning outcomes?
First, the two are not mutually exclusive. Researchers have provided convincing evidence that teachers of color, relative to their White colleagues, have higher expectations for and are more likely to improve learning for students of color. Qualitative researchers have long observed (e.g., Nieto, Ladson-Billings, and Warren) and recent causal relationships found by quantitative researchers (e.g., Ouazad, Egalite, and Gershenson) point to the “added value” for students of color taught by teachers of color.
There is, of course, a great danger in suggesting that simply providing Latino and black teachers for Latino and black students will close persistent learning and opportunity gaps. However, the data around this “added value” should create a renewed focus on increasing the racial/ethnic diversity of our country’s teachers.
Such a focus on recruiting and retaining teachers of color is not new. In 1996, Stanford University’s Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues described the importance of a diverse educator workforce. However, the recent National Summit on Teacher Diversity at the U.S. Department of Education signaled a commitment from federal policymakers to work with states and local school districts to develop concrete steps to recruit, support, and retain teachers of color.
During the summit, I shared the following recommendations for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.
*First, researchers should explore how teacher preparation programs are organized to support the unique needs of preservice teachers of color. If the demographics of teacher candidates shift, should the course of study in traditional certification programs also shift to meet the needs of these new recruits? There is a growing body of research on the experiences of Black teachers, but much less on Native American, Asian, and Latino teachers. Researchers may want to understand how teachers’ school-based experiences are similar and different across each racial/ethnic subgroup.
*Second, practitioners should begin to tailor professional development that responds to the experiences teachers of color face. In schools, we differentiate learning for students, but rarely do so for adults. Some models of such continuous improvement initiatives for teachers of color have been developed in Boston and California. Also, alternative teacher certification routes such as Teach for America, which have had great success with increasing the teacher of color pipeline, should partner with programs such as Pathways2Teaching—an organization that works with eleventh and twelfth graders to pursue careers in teaching. As we increase the number of teachers of color, we must also ensure they have access to high-quality preparation.
*Third, several policy changes should be enacted to increase, support, and retain teachers of color. Schools of education should drastically reduce the cost of attaining certification. Saddled with debt from their undergraduate degrees, perspective teachers of color are more likely to choose alternative certification programs (e.g., teacher residency programs) because of the low cost associated with attending.
Additionally, states should replace the requirement of passing licensure exams and instead use performance-based assessments (e.g., edTPA) to certify teachers. Teacher certification exams provide a weak measure of a teacher’s ability to increase student learning. A recent lawsuit in New York State highlighted how teacher certification exams served as a barrier for increasing the number of teachers of color.
Under the new federal K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have greater autonomy around spending. States should use this flexibility, particularly Title II funding, to support differentiated learning opportunities for teachers of color. Finally, the National Center for Education Statistics should include items on its nationally representative survey, the School and Staffing Survey (SASS), that ask teachers to report school-based experiences related to race, gender, and sexuality. Such data will allow policymakers to make evidence-based decisions to support and retain teachers of color.
President Obama began his recent 2016 Presidential Proclamation for National Teacher Appreciation Day and National Teacher Appreciation Week by saying, “Our country’s story, written over more than two centuries, is one of challenges, chances, and progress.”
As a nation, we are faced with the challenge of a teacher workforce that does not represent our country’s increasing racial/ethnic diversity. With changes to current practices and policies, we have a chance to make progress on ensuring our children have teachers who look like them. In so doing, we move closer to honoring that most sacred ideal—out of many, one.