Earlier this month, Richard M. Ingersoll and Henry May published a study through the Consortium for Policy Research in Education that addressed the long-held belief that the country is suffering from a lack of diversity in the teaching profession. They synthesized their findings in a recent article for Phi Delta Kappan. As an introduction, they discuss what conventional wisdom says about the minority teacher shortage:
–The teaching force has grown more white and less diverse.
–Minority students increasingly lack minority adult role models and qualified teachers of any race because white teachers avoid schools with large minority populations.
–The minority teacher shortage is a major reason for the minority achievement gap and therefore unequal occupational and life outcomes for disadvantaged students.
–The source of this shortage is due to few minority students completing college, and those who do seek professions other than teaching.
–When minority candidates do seek teaching positions, there are barriers (such as teacher entry exams, on which minority candidates have lower pass rates).
The end result is a minority teacher shortage and, it can be argued, a civil rights issue. However, Ingersoll and May were not satisfied with the “conventional wisdom,” so several years ago they set about studying the data.
They looked at a series of data from a large national survey of teachers and administrators conducted by the Department of Education. The data covered over two decades, from the late 1980s through 2009, and the researchers used it to determine the extent of the minority teacher shortage. They looked at whether employment rates of minority teachers; the ratio of minority students and minority teachers versus white students and white teachers; where minority teachers tend to be employed and the comparison with white teachers’ employment; and the retention rate of minority teachers versus white teachers.
Their results showed that there has been a persistent gap between the percentage of minority students and the percentage of minority teachers across the nation. However, in recent years it seems that this gap has persisted largely because the number of white students has decreased while the number of minority students has increased, rather than a decrease in the number of minorities teaching.
Also, they found that since the late 1980s the number of minority teachers have almost doubled—from 325,000 to 642,000 in 2009. This growth outpaced the growth in minority students and was over twice the growth rate of white teachers. This illustrates that the teaching force has rapidly grown more diverse, and holds true for male minority teachers as well.
Minority teachers are “overwhelmingly employed” in high-needs schools; in fact, they are two to three times more likely to work in such a school as white teachers. Therefore, it can be concluded that efforts to recruit more minority teachers to teach in high-poverty, high-minority schools have been successful.
On the flip side, however, minority teachers’ careers have been less stable than white teachers. In recent years particularly, minority teachers were more likely to change schools or leave teaching altogether than their white counterparts—and this trend is more pronounced with male minority teachers. One consequence of such high turnover rates is that the effort to address the minority teacher shortage is undermined. For example, in the 2003-04 school year, 47,600 minority teachers entered the profession; but the following year 56,000 had left teaching.
The largest consideration for minority teachers changing schools or leaving the profession appears to be working conditions. High needs schools tend to have chronic staffing problems, and therefore less desirable working conditions. Furthermore,
“[Most] striking was what we found when we looked at which conditions were most correlated with minority teachers’ departures. Salary levels, the provision of useful professional development, and the availability of classroom resources all had little impact on whether they were likely to leave. The strongest factors by far for minority teachers were the level of collective faculty decision-making influence in the school and the degree of individual instructional autonomy held by teachers in their classrooms. Influence and autonomy, of course, are key hallmarks of respected professions. Schools that provided more teacher classroom discretion and autonomy, as well as schools with higher levels of faculty input into school decision making, had significantly lower levels of minority teacher turnover.”
Therefore, it can be concluded that the problem with the minority teacher shortage is not a lack of minority teachers entering the profession, it is that there is an exceptionally high turnover rate. Since the biggest factor in minority teachers deciding to leave the profession is a lack of autonomy and no voice, accountability measures need to be crafted so that teachers do not lose control over their classrooms and their opinions are heard and validated. In other words, reforming school culture, policies, and working conditions could help keep minority teachers in the profession, and decrease the effects of the high turnover rates on high-poverty, high-minority schools. “Unlike reforms such as teacher salary increases and class-size reduction, changing some conditions, such as teachers’ classroom autonomy and faculty’s schoolwide influence, should be less costly financially—an important consideration, especially in low-income settings and in periods of budgetary constraint.”
To read the full study, please visit http://www.cpre.org/images/stories/cpre_pdfs/minority%20teacher%20shortage%20report_rr69%20sept%20final.pdf