Why Diverse Teachers Elevate Education for Everyone

Sixty-two years ago, Brown v. Board of Education held that separate schools for black and white students are inherently unequal, marking an important milestone in the fight for desegregation and diversity in schools.

Fast forward to May of 2014, when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the 2014-2015 school year would be the first time non-white students would represent a majority in America's public schools. While this was a watershed moment for diversity activists around the country, efforts to increase diversity among teachers in American schools remain a challenge.

There are good reasons why diversity is still being discussed so much in education right now.

Studies dating back to the 1970s have shown that diversity has significant educational benefits, helping to improve everything from cognitive learning to long-term academic performance. In fact, some studies show that college students who have grown up in diverse environments tend to have better learning outcomes, such as enhanced critical thinking skills and graduation rates.

Diverse teachers can also have an enormous impact on students who come from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. By exposing them to outlooks different from their own, teachers inspire students to see the world in a new way. This sparks curiosity in learning about new cultures, histories, and social and economic dynamics, which improves outcomes in the classroom and can make students more understanding, empathetic citizens outside of school.

There is also reason to believe a more diverse teacher set has positive outcomes for business.

With non-white students comprising a majority in American classrooms, the competitiveness of our country's workforce hinges increasingly on these students' learning success. Providing the teachers most likely to produce the best learning outcomes among their students is one of the best ways to ensure our economy continues to thrive for years to come.

But here's why having teachers from diverse backgrounds is so important, so relevant right now: for students facing adversity, there is often nothing more important than having an educator unlock their self-doubt and help them achieve their full potential.

We see this in the stories we receive through our Inspired2Educate program, in which we ask today's educators to tell us about an educator who inspired them.

Many of the teachers we've heard from since the start of the program in February experienced tremendous adversity and prejudice as students just for being who they were. Stepping into the classroom of teachers from similar backgrounds gave them the strength and confidence they needed to know they could achieve, succeed. And, in that success, they also found motivation to give back to their communities and teach and inspire students with challenges similar to their own.

Two weeks ago I shared the story of Elizabeth, a math teacher from Colorado who, growing up as a Latina in a predominantly white community, felt her future wouldn't amount to much. That all changed when she met her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Vasquez, a Latina who came from a similar background. Mrs. Vasquez helped Elizabeth understand for the first time that her heritage was something to celebrate, not feel ashamed of.

Having Mrs. Vasquez as a role model changed Elizabeth's entire outlook. She no longer felt ashamed at school, and, for the first time, Elizabeth began to develop ambitions for the future, one of which included becoming an educator herself. Today, Elizabeth is a math teacher in the same community where she grew up, and is carrying forward Mrs. Vasquez's legacy by inspiring her students to dream big and achieve -- no matter their background.

So, even as we celebrate the enormous progress our nation has made in increasing student diversity in the 62 years since Brown v. Board, let us understand that the work of achieving diversity in our nation's schools remains unfinished.

We all have an interest -- moral, societal, and economic -- in ensuring that America's teachers reflect the growingly diverse nature of its student body. At PeopleAdmin, we are working to do our part in that important process by helping schools and universities place the right educators in the right positions around the country. We take our role seriously, knowing it is the great educators of today who will inspire the diverse core of educators our country needs tomorrow.

Kermit S. Randa is chief executive officer of PeopleAdmin, the leader in cloud-based talent management solutions for education and government. He has twenty years of executive experience leading firms in the software industry.