The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Minority teachers in U.S. more than doubled over 25 years — but still fewer than 20 percent of educators, study shows

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The number of minority teachers more than doubled in the United States over a 25-year period but still represent less than 20 percent of the country’s elementary and secondary school teaching force, a new statistical analysis of data shows. And black teachers, while seeing an increase in the number of teachers, saw a decline in the percentage they make up of the overall teaching force. (See full report below.)

From 1987 to 1988 and 2011 to 2012, researchers found that the teaching force became much larger, by 46 percent; more diverse, though minority teachers remain underrepresented; and less experienced.  There were, however, large differences among different types of schools and academic subjects.

For example, the number of teachers in English as a second language, English/language arts, math, foreign language, natural science and special education all grew at above-average rates, while the fields of general elementary, vocational-technical education and art/music each had below-average growth.

The nation’s teacher force lacks diversity, and it might not get much better

In addition, the teaching force in high-poverty public schools in the United States grew by nearly 325 percent and jumped from about 8 percent to 22 percent of the entire teaching force. Meanwhile, the number of teachers working in low-poverty public schools declined by one-fifth, and that group went from being 60 percent of all public school teachers to 33 percent.

The report, titled “A Quarter Century of Changes in the Elementary and Secondary Teaching Force: From 1987 to 2012,” was completed by Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior research specialist at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, and Lisa Merrill of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University. Ingersoll has long studied teachers, including the character of elementary and secondary schools as workplaces, teachers as employees and teaching as a job.

The new statistical analysis of the United States’ teaching force, released by the U.S. Education Department, builds on a 2014 report co-written by Ingersoll, Merrill and another researcher, which found that the teaching force had become larger, more diverse and less experienced from 1987-1988 to 2011-2012, the years for which comprehensive data is available.

The report found that in that 25-year-old period, the number of minority teachers grew by 104 percent, compared with 38 percent for white teachers, and the percentage of all teachers who belonged to minority groups increased from 12.4 percent in 1987-1988 to 17.3 percent in 2011-2012. In 1987-1988, there were about 327,000 minority teachers. There were about 666,000 by 2011-2012.

While that shows an increase, it in no way reflects the K-12 student population, which now has a majority of minority students. Minority teachers remain underrepresented in the teaching force. The largest growth was most seen among Asian and Hispanic teachers, who still claim a relatively small portion of all teachers — 2 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, in 2011-2012. In the 25-year period under scrutiny, Asian teachers increased by 209 percent and Hispanic by 270 percent.

A once nearly all-white school district has a new largest group: Hispanic students

While the number of black teachers increased by 25 percent, their percentage in the overall teaching force declined, from 7.5 to 6.5 percent, it said. White teachers saw a 38 percent increase in the number of teachers, but went from constituting 88 percent of the teaching force to 83 percent. American Indian teachers lost ground during the quarter-century, and made up less than 1 percent of the teaching force in 2011-2012.

Why white students need black teachers — by a white teacher

The numbers speak to a 2016 study by the Brookings Institution and the National Council on Teacher Quality, which noted, according to this story by my colleague T. Rees Shapiro, that efforts to increase diversity among the teaching corps are being hampered because few minority college graduates are going into teaching and it is becoming harder to recruit minorities into classrooms where they “could potentially boost the performance of minority children and increase the pipeline of teacher candidates.” The study says there may be only minimal improvement through 2060.

The new statistical analysis also found a decline of experience across the teaching force. Beginners were 20 percent of public school teachers in 1987-1988 and 21 percent in 2011-2012 — but the number in high-poverty public schools quadrupled. Between 1987-1988 and 2011-2012, it said:

  • While the percent age of all teachers who were beginners (about 22 percent) did not change between 1987—88 and 2011—12, the data show that the number of beginners (those with 5 or less years of experience) increased by 43 percent, representing a gain of over 250,000 beginning teachers
  • As might be expected, those types of schools with the greatest hiring and growth also often had the largest gains in numbers of beginning teachers. For example, between 1987—88 and 2011—12, the number of beginners in high-poverty public schools increased from 41,000 to 189,400 — a more than 350-percent gain.
  • Thus, in 2011—12, there were over four times as many beginners in high-poverty schools as in 1987—88. In contrast, the number of beginning teachers employed in low-poverty schools declined by one-fifth during the same period.

Here’s the report:

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