BLACK VOICES

Report: Want More Racially Diverse Educators? Then It Is Time To Improve Teacher Working Conditions

Educators of color often face tough teaching environments.

Nearly 19 percent of teachers of color left their jobs after the 2011 - 2012  school year, either exiting the profession or pursuing a position at another school. 

Some left for innocuous reasons like deciding to retire or needing to take care of family or personal issues. But 50 percent said they left because they were dissatisfied with their employment situation, reporting poor workplace conditions, student discipline problems and large class sizes.

For years, policy analysts and researchers have preached the benefits of increasing the share of minority teachers in schools, especially as our public school system has transitioned to one that is composed mostly of minority students. In response, district programs and university-affiliated initiatives have popped up around the country, successfully increasing the share of recruited minority teachers who enter the workforce. But increased recruitment of minority teachers is only one half of the equation when it comes to making sure educators look like their students, according to a new report from the pro-union nonprofit The Shanker Institute. To see a meaningful increase in the proportion of minority teachers, there has to be a new focus on lowering attrition rates. 

Teachers of color -- who, on the whole, are more likely than their white counterparts to choose to work in racially diverse schools -- offer particular benefits to their students. Graduation rates increase among minority students when they are taught by racially and ethnically similar educators, research shows. They can serve as positive role models, and their presence reduces the chance of implicit racial bias impacting how a student is treated.

The latest available Department of Education data from 2012 shows that minority teachers represent 17 percent of the teaching force. This represents an increase from 1987, when the minority share of the teaching force stood at 12 percent. Yet this increase is unimpressive when you compare it to the proportion of minority students in American public schools, which was nearly 50 percent in 2012 -- and has since surpassed that halfway mark.   

The Shanker Institute report suggests that rates of minority teacher hiring are not the whole problem, noting, “Minority teachers are being hired at a higher proportional rate than other teachers.” It turns out the problem is what happens after these educators enter the classroom. These teachers -- who in 2012 - 2013 were four percent more likely to leave their jobs than white teachers -- often work in "hard-to-staff, high-poverty urban schools ... [that are] more likely to have less-desirable working conditions. And these less-desirable conditions, our data suggest, account for the higher rates of minority teacher turnover."

The report continues, "The tragedy is that the success of minority teacher recruitment efforts has been undermined." 

The Shanker Institute suggested a number of solutions to turn this trend around. Firstly, state and federal agencies need to make sure they are collecting a greater volume of data, which is more accurate on the subject. Secondly, school districts should develop mentorship programs that support minority teachers once they are in the classroom. School leaders and districts should also be evaluated on their ability to retain teachers of color.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and board president of The Shanker Institute, is calling for a national summit on teacher diversity.

"Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity. Where there's a diverse teaching workforce, all kids thrive,” Weingarten said in a press release. 

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