Report: We Need More Teachers of Color

By Kenrya Rankin May 09, 2016

A report from the U.S. Department of Education says that the people in charge of educating our kids are still overwhelmingly White—despite the fact that more than half of students are people of color.

“The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce” starts with a telling quote from education secretary John B. King Jr, pulled from a speech he gave at Howard University.

Without question, when the majority of students in public schools are students of color and only 18 percent of our teachers are teachers of color, we have an urgent need to act. We’ve got to understand that all students benefit from teacher diversity. We have strong evidence that students of color benefit from having teachers and leaders who look like them as role models and also benefit from the classroom dynamics that diversity creates. But it is also important for our White students to see teachers of color in leadership roles in their classrooms and communities. The question for the nation is how do we address this quickly and thoughtfully?

The report shows that despite an increase in teachers of color in the workforce, 82 percent of elementary and secondary public school educators are still White. Meanwhile, White students make up just 49 percent of the school population. The gap holds at the leadership level, where 80 percent of principals are White.

And the pipeline isn’t poised to shift things. While 37 percent of all students at institutions of higher education are people of color, they represent just 25 percent of the teaching program population. And POC who major in education are actually less likely to complete their degrees. Seventy-three percent of all students finish their bachelor’s degrees in education within six years, but that percentage drops to 49 percent for Latino prospective teachers and 42 percent for Blacks.

The report also revealed that HBCUs are an especially strong pipeline for Black teachers, delivering 16 percent of them to the workforce. And certification programs that lie outside traditional institutions of higher education are much better at enrolling future teachers of color; fully 42 percent of participants in those programs are POC.

The Department of Education’s report concludes by pointing readers toward President Barack Obama’s FY17 budget. It includes proposals aimed at increasing diversity in the nation’s teaching workforce, like the Teacher Pathways program and RESPECT: Best Job in the World, which aims to attract and retain teachers of color in “high-need” schools. Read the full report here.