Diversifying the teaching profession has long been a goal of policymakers and school district leaders. A new data visualization shows just how far each state has to go.
Nationally, students of color make up more than half of the nation’s public school student population, but less than a quarter of public school teachers are people of color. About a third of school leaders are educators of color, as are 40 percent of paraprofessionals, who are often tapped to become teachers themselves.
But the numbers vary significantly by state. The U.S. Department of Education published a policy brief last month that included a breakdown of educator diversity across the country.
The analysis uses 2022 data from a survey conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that covers all school districts with 100 or more employees in every state and the District of Columbia.
A body of research shows that teachers of color have academic and social-emotional benefits for all students, but particularly students of color. Teachers of color often have higher expectations for their students of color than white teachers do, and research has shown that high expectations from teachers can translate into improved outcomes for students.
For instance, Black students from low-income families are more likely to graduate from high school and consider attending college if they have just one Black teacher in elementary school. Black children are also more likely to be placed in gifted education programs, and less likely to receive exclusionary discipline causing them to miss class time, when they have Black teachers.
But the gap between the number of students of color and the number of teachers of color has remained stubborn, in part due to teachers of color leaving the profession at higher rates than white teachers.
Having more diversity in the school leadership ranks could help. Research has found that Black principals are more likely to both hire and keep Black teachers.
While the data compiled by the Education Department show that school leaders are more likely to be Black than teachers, that includes assistant principals who oversee instruction and those who oversee non-teaching operations. Researchers say that assistant principals of color—especially Black men—are often assigned to oversee discipline.
Other federal data show that about 77 percent of principals are white, which is in line with the teacher workforce.
A ‘sense of urgency’
State policymakers must be proactive in setting policies that bolster both the recruitment and retention of educators of color, said Javaid Siddiqi, the chief executive officer and president of the Hunt Institute, an education think tank.
“The data, we believe, will hopefully create a sense of urgency,” he said.
The Hunt Institute, along with other education groups, formed the coalition One Million Teachers of Color, which seeks to add that many teachers of color and 30,000 school leaders of color to the workforce over the next decade. The Education Department has partnered with the coalition in a public service campaign to encourage more people to become teachers.
There are some promising indicators about future diversity in the field: Another analysis by the Education Department found that nationally, 32 percent of preservice teachers identify as people of color, compared to about 24 percent of current public school teachers. (The department also created a state-by-state comparison of diversity in teacher-preparation programs.)
And there are efforts underway by both the Education Department and state leaders to eliminate barriers to becoming a teacher. For example, many states have established registered teacher-apprenticeship programs, through which aspiring teachers can prepare to become a teacher while earning a paycheck and often while receiving other forms of assistance, including for child care, textbooks, or transportation. Many of these programs target paraprofessionals.
Siddiqi said he hopes that the state-by-state data will spur a competition of sorts among policymakers, as they strive to be “the best” in their region.
“We believe the data is compelling enough that we don’t really need to go around twisting arms or banging on any doors,” he said.
District leaders also play an important role in recruiting and retaining teachers of color. For more on the techniques districts can employ, see this new Education Week special report.