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Teacher Diversity:  Why It Matters

Teacher Diversity: Why it Matters

Every state requires its children to attend school.  Schools of all types strive to teach their students the traditional three “R’s” – reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.  However, schools that are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion should consider another “r”: race.

In an ideal world, the race of the teachers in the classroom would not matter.  Our world, however, is far from ideal.  Current and historical patterns of housing discrimination, income inequality, and other factors have created an educational system that disadvantages many students, particularly students of color.  As a result, teacher diversity is key to ensuring success for all students.

Current and historical factors have created an educational system that disadvantages many students, particularly students of color. As a result, teacher diversity is key to ensuring success for all students. Click To Tweet

The Student Population in U.S. Schools

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education.  In that landmark case, the Court declared that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional.  Brown envisioned a nation where children of all races would attend school together.  Sadly, Brown’s promise has not been realized.

Today, public schools in the U.S. are nearly as segregated as they were when Brown was decided.  Though white children are the largest student group in the nation, according to government data, the number of white children in the nation’s public schools has decreased steadily for the past twenty years.  (White parents are more likely than parents of other races to send their children to private schools.)  Currently, just less than half of U.S. public school students are white.  The government data predicts that this number will continue to fall over the next two decades.

Though the number of white students in public schools has fallen, the data shows that the number of students of color has risen steadily.  This growth is driven by a large increase in the number of Latinx, Native American, and students from Asian backgrounds.  While the number of African-American public school students has dropped slightly over the past few years, African American students make up the majority of public school students in many U.S. cities.   In short, the nation’s public schools teach students from a variety of racial backgrounds.

Teacher Diversity – The Statistics

Though the number of students of color in public schools is increasing, the same is not true in front of the classroom.  According to data from the Pew Research Center, though students of color comprise 51 percent of the students in public schools, teachers of color are only 20 percent of those in front of the chalkboard.  So, the teaching profession remains overwhelmingly white.

The Pew Data reveals some good and bad news for teacher diversity.  On the plus side, the number of teachers of color has nearly doubled over the past thirty years.  Most of that growth comes from Latinx and Asian American teachers.  Nevertheless, on the negative side, while the number of Black teachers has increased, the share of Black teachers has decreased.  So, schools must continue to work toward teacher diversity.

Why Teacher Diversity Matters 

While some might believe that a teacher’s color is irrelevant, race impacts the classroom in a number of ways.  Studies indicate that students of color perform better in classrooms lead by teachers of color.   Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that having just one African American teacher greatly reduces Black students’ drop-out risk.  Studies have also found that teachers of color are more likely to recommend students for gifted programs and other honors.  Conversely, perhaps due to implicit bias, white teachers often have lower expectations for students of color.  As a result, these students suffer academically and emotionally.

Teacher diversity benefits students of color, but it also benefits white students.  Education leaders suggest that teacher diversity may slightly impact white students’ test scores and exposure to teachers and students of color significantly improves white students’ racial attitudes.  So, creating a teacher workforce that reflects society benefits all students.

As the U.S. and world become more diverse, students will need to interact with people from many nations and traditions.  To help them prepare, schools should hire teachers with a variety of backgrounds and lived experiences.  Leaders must help teachers implement the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion in their daily lessons.  If your district, school, or teaching staff needs additional help understanding equity, diversity, and inclusion in the classroom, please consider enrolling in The Equity Toolkit.  This progressive toolkit course will equip educators with skills and strategies needed to be effective in an increasingly diverse classrooms and communities.


DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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