Why Teacher Diversity Matters

New research by the Center for American Progress and Education Trust shines a light on a growing problem

My friend Esther is a retired educator who taught gifted students in Brooklyn, New York. As a youngster, Esther herself was identified by two black teachers as an accelerated learner. She remembers distinctly, however, that the two women gave her a slight advantage by “pre-testing” her, reviewing the results, and then coaching her in one or two areas where she was less strong. Later, Esther passed the real test with flying colors and was put on the gifted track—where she belonged. She ended up graduating from college at 19.

Did Esther’s teachers cheat? Or did they simply open a door for a young girl they knew could handle the work?

 

(Image: iStock/gradyreese)

 

I think this story—although it happened years ago—illustrates one small example of what black teachers sometimes do for charges they’re convinced can excel.

The problem is, as our nation’s schools grow more diverse the diversity of the teaching corps barely budges. That’s the conclusion of a report from the Center for American Progress, which finds huge gaps in percentages of teachers of color and students of color. In 2014, students of color exceeded the percentage of white students for the first time in U.S. public schools, reports CAP—which has been examining teacher and student diversity since 2011.

Why Teacher Diversity Matters

 

Does it really matter? Many black and brown students have known caring white teachers—many of whom went more than the second mile to see their charges succeed. But the data says that such teachers are the exception, and that in general white teachers expect less of black students, putting them at a disadvantage.

Research has also shown that having just one black teacher in third, fourth, or fifth grade lowered the risk by 39% of low-income black boys’ dropping out of high school. The effects of having just one black teacher were long lasting and positive, even affecting attitudes about college, the study found.

And I wrote just this morning about a Mexican American studies program in Tucson, Arizona—taught by Mexican American teachers—in which 100% of its enrolled students graduated from high school. This is against a dropout backdrop of 49% for Latino students. A startling 85% of students in the program went on to college, according to NPR.

But a recent report by the Education Trust–New York, See Our Truth, reveals that in New York State, more than 10% of Latino and black students attend schools without a teacher of their same race or ethnicity. In a system in which black and Latino students are held to lower standards, teacher diversity matters.

Teacher Diversity in New York

 

According to Ed Trust, in addition to the 10% of black and Latino students (115,000) who have no teachers of their same race or ethnicity, 80,000 (7%) attend schools with just one teacher of their same race or ethnicity.

And perhaps just as significant, nearly half of all white students—more than 560,000 students—are enrolled in schools that don’t have a single black or Latino teacher; 84% attend schools without a black or Latino principal or assistant principal.

For more about See Our Truth visit the Ed Trust–New York website. Join the conversation with the hashtag #seeourtruth.