A new report on diversity in the teaching workforce has been released by the US Department of Education that shows white teachers continue to make up a disproportionately large share of the corps.
The report, "The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce," found that while 51% of students are white, 82% of teachers are.
While diversity among public school teachers increased between the 1987-88 and 2011-12 school years, with some subgroups of teachers of color going from 13% to 18%, the percentage of black teachers fell slightly in the same time period. Teacher preparation programs were found to be only slightly more diverse, with 25% of those enrolled at the time being students of color in comparison with 37% of those enrolled in a college or university. Meanwhile, the number of American Indian or Alaska Native teachers fell from 1% to half a percent.
In addition, the completion rate for students of color in teacher preparation programs was found to be lower, as 42% of black students and 49% of Hispanic students graduated within six years in comparison with 73% of white students. Alternative teacher preparation programs, which offer more online work and flexibility for those with full-time jobs, drew a larger portion of students of color.
The report also found that students of color were more likely to enroll in a for-profit college for teacher training. While 7% of all education majors in 2012-13 came from for-profit colleges, 12% of education majors that were students of color were from for-profit institutions. Casey Quinlan for ThinkProgress writes that although these schools vary in how they are regarded by employers, many graduates of such schools find it difficult to gain employment.
Various research exists showing how race and ethnicity influence interactions between teachers and students. For example, black students are typically found to be gifted by black teachers. In addition, black teachers are more likely than white teachers to believe that black students will graduate and go on to attend college, writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.
In a speech concerning the report given at a national summit on teacher diversity in Washington last Friday, U.S. Education Secretary John King noted the importance of having educators and role models who look like their students. He added that white students would also benefit from seeing more people of color in leadership positions.
"If your first interaction with a person of another race or ethnicity, or someone who speaks a different language, comes as an adult in a situation of incredible crisis and conflict, you're less likely to be prepared to deal with that well than if you've had those experiences early in life," King said.
"This issue of diversity is really about making our country better," he said. "We will get closer to our goals of equity and excellence if we have a diverse teaching workforce."
King added the trouble is not just with recruiting teachers of color, but also in keeping them. While many leave for the same reasons as other teachers, including low pay and poor working conditions, he said that some leave as a result of an "invisible tax," or always being the teacher that handles issues of diversity within the school in which they work, or always being given the students that are considered to be difficult to handle.
King noted that teachers of color are often put in positions without additional support, saying it is important for schools and school system leaders to remember that "diversity is all of our responsibility."