The U.S. teaching workforce is still very white, according to a new report on diversity in the teaching workforce released Friday from the U.S. Department of Education. In public schools, 82 percent of teachers are white, compared to 51 percent of students.
Diversity among public school teachers increased between the the 1987–88 and 2011–12 school year, as the portion of teachers of color went from 13 percent to 18 percent. But the proportion of black teachers has fallen slightly during that time period. Teacher preparation programs were only a little more diverse: 25 percent of the students enrolled in teacher preparation programs were people of color, compared with 37 percent of people enrolled in a college or university. The proportion of American Indian or Alaska Native teachers dropped from 1 percent to half a percent.
The completion rates for teacher preparation programs were also much lower among people of color. Alternative teacher preparation programs, which allow students to complete work online and provide for more flexibility for people who have full-time jobs, had more students of color.
Aspiring teachers of color seem to be slightly more likely to pursue their education at a for-profit college. Although 7 percent of all education majors conferred to students in the 2012–2013 academic year came from for-profit colleges, 12 percent of education majors given to students of color came from those institutions. Although for-profit colleges vary in terms of how much they’re respected by employers or the value they provide, many students who go to for-profit colleges find it difficult to find employment or keep employment.
According to the report, there are several important phases that mark teacher candidates’ careers, and at multiple points in the teacher pipeline the proportion of teachers of color falls.
From the very beginning, the fact that there are fewer students of color at four-year colleges in general has an effect on the teacher pipeline. Then, research shows that aspiring teachers of color score lower scores and passing rates on teacher licensure tests. Some teachers of color have pursued lawsuits alleging racial bias in these teaching exams. Last year, a New York judge ruled that a New York Teachers exam was racially biased because it did not properly measure skills relevant to all teachers. One of the issues cited in the exam was its focus on liberal arts.
It’s important for students of color to have teachers of color in order to experience a shared perspective that allows them to stay engaged in school and see themselves reflected in potential mentors. Speaking at a panel at the National Summit on Teacher Diversity about the importance of teacher diversity held on Friday in Washington. D.C., 11th grade student Jorge Escobar Funez said having a teacher of a similar background “inspired me to go into the classroom and ask some questions.” Funez’ connection with his Mexican-American teacher encouraged him to come seek help after school in math, he said.
Students at Friday’s event also said having a principal of color — and particularly a young principal who was out in the classroom rather than being isolated to his office — was important to their education and allowed them to envision a future where they could lead a school. Only 20 percent of public school principals during the 2011–12 school year were people of color, according to the report. Having more principals of color and having more teachers of color may be tied to each other, research from the University of Missouri shows, since black teachers in a school with a black principal say they receive more encouragement, and black teachers with white school leaders said they were paid $500 less on average than white teachers.
Having teachers of color is also important for white students. It can give them an opportunity to be exposed to perspectives that are not Eurocentric, to see competent black teachers that will hopefully prevent them from holding stereotypes, and to prepare themselves for adult life in a country that is becoming increasingly less white, according to an Atlantic story by Melinda Anderson.