Findings released by a left-leaning think tank today demonstrate minority students will soon out-number whites, but a dearth of minority instructors is holding back students of color who could benefit from teachers with similar backgrounds.
Center For American Progress, based in Washington, D.C., published two studies: one that provides a state-by-state analysis of teachers of color, noting that while 40 percent of K-12 students are non-white, only 17 percent of teachers share those characteristics. The second study proposed solutions for expanding recruitment and retention of qualified minority instructors.
“While our schools are very diverse, our students aren’t seeing that diversity reflected in their teachers,” said Saba Bireda, one of the two reports’ writers, during a conference highlighting the reports’ findings. “Teachers of color are role models to students of color. They are real-life examples of a career path towards teaching.”
Using 2008 data compiled by the federal National Center for Education Statistics called Schools and Staffing Survey, the CAP researchers found 20 states have gaps of 25 percent or more between minority teachers and students.
California leads all states: 72 percent of students are of color while only 29 percent of teachers identified as non-white. Two-thirds of Texas students are non-white yet only one third of teachers share similar backgrounds.
Ulrich Boser, who compiled the national data, spoke starkly about the results. “Diversity is the litmus test for modern society,” she said.
Others studies also point to the educational benefits of having more teachers of color.
A 2004 paper analyzing teacher racial composition and pupil test-results in Tennessee found a small boost in student performance on standardized tests when taught by teachers of the same race. After four years of receiving instruction from a same-race teacher, students improved test scores by a range of 8 to 12 percentage points. Inconveniently, those findings applied to white students as well.
More recently, a 2011 working study by economists focusing on a large community college in California pointed to strong gains by minority students taught by instructors from any minority background.
“Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans are 2.9 percentage points more likely to pass courses with instructors of similar background and 2.8 percentage points more likely to pass courses with underrepresented instructors.”
The authors add: “These effects represent roughly half of the total gaps in classroom outcomes between white and underrepresented minority students at the college. The effects are particularly large for Blacks. The class dropout rate relative to Whites is 6 percentage points lower for Black students when taught by a Black instructor.”
But a combination of employer bias, undesirable working conditions and a lag in numbers of minorities with college degrees explains why white teachers are over-represented in U.S. classrooms.
In 2004, researchers at Harvard conducted a famous study partly titled, “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” It determined job applicants with more caucasian-sounding names receive 50 percent more call-backs from potential employers than those with black-sounding names.
High-school graduation rates favor whites to blacks and Hispanics by roughly 20 percentage points, with some 77 percent of whites having graduated in the class of 2007. College completion rates show much of the same, with whites wrapping up their college studies more frequently (by 12 to 20 percentage points).
CAP’s study also found minority teachers are generally less satisfied with their work conditions, with whites showing more approval (78 percent) than blacks (70 percent.) And while the pay gap along racial lines is modest, with whites earning $49,570 to $48,890 and $49,260 for blacks and Hispanics, respectively, satisfaction with pay differed wildly: 53 percent of caucasians were happy with their pay versus 37 percent for blacks and 46 percent for Hispanics. Much of that disparity, the researchers reason, is the result of teacher placement: whites tend to stand in front of more affluent pupils, while minority instructors are more likely to be placed in schools with many low-income and high-risk students.
However, the shortfall of minority teachers should not be blamed on demographics, alone, says Boser during a brief interview with TAI.
“I would argue that the the question is not the relative percentages of graduation rates, but the absolute numbers of available potential teachers, and I do think that a sufficient pool of well-qualified potential teachers of color exists in most areas.”
Non-traditional accreditation programs are one way recruiters can bolster the number of minority educators in classrooms across the country, the researchers argue. So far, 25 percent of Hispanic, and 27 of black, school teachers have come through alternative pipelines, compared to 11 percent of whites.
The New Teacher Project, which has placed 37,000 teachers in high-needs urban schools, tries to respond to the demographic needs of school districts by recruiting mid-career and and older college graduates. TNTP estimates some 37 percent of their fellows, teachers who receive multi-year on-going education towards a teaching certificate, are of color. Its various fellowship projects are also known to attract minority candidates with professional backgrounds in math and the sciences — despite usually taking pay cuts to enter the teaching profession.
And unlike fellows of Teach For America, a teacher accreditation program that boasts of recruiting young graduates from top national universities, TNTP fellows teach longer, especially minority candidates. 60.5 percent of TFA teachers continue working as public school instructors after their two year commitment. 35.5 percent taught after four years. Comparatively, 72 percent of TNTP fellows come back for a forth year of teaching. Among blacks and Latinos, 78 percent remain.
Leaders of non-traditional teacher programs sharing their experiences at the CAP event placed additional emphasis on retention. “I want to sure [new teachers] are growing in their profession,” said Rachelle Rogers-Ard, a teacher who manages a recruitment and retention program in Oakland that seeks out teachers of color. “We’re recruiting folks because we want them to remain in education.”
But targeting minority populations to staff classrooms does not mean the instructors will be highly qualified or effective. “We wouldn’t support lowering certification standards, they are really low to start with,” says Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group that is critical of teacher assessment standards nationwide.” Still, she sees value in alternative accreditation routes to help add more diversity in the teaching profession. “There are things that alt routes do that help remove…barriers for anyone, specifically to promote that diversity.”
Rogers-Ard, however, thinks nurturing new talent is an aspect of education many critics of the teaching profession overlook: “That first year doctor might not be as effective as a fifth year physician.”