Teachers of Color in the American Teacher Workforce

Recently in Chalkbeat, Matt Barnum analyzed recent reports of teacher demographics and explained how the demographic make-up of the American teacher workforce can be understood in two different ways. Excerpts from his piece appear below:                

Teachers of color are still a small share of the teaching force.

In 1987, about 87 percent of public school teachers were white. In the 2015-16 school year, just over 80 percent of teachers were white. During that same time period, the raw number of teachers of color went from 305,000 out of well over 2 million teachers to about 760,000 out of nearly 4 million teachers.

That means there are a few ways to frame the exact same data: You could emphasize that the number of teachers of color has increased by 150 percent in nearly three decades. But you could also say that the share of teachers of color has increased only 7 percentage points during that time.

Both are accurate, though they suggest very different stories.

The 150 percent increase looks so large in part because there were few teachers of color to begin with. It’s also focusing on the raw numbers at a time when total number of teachers has ballooned.

That means the raw increase doesn’t translate to teachers of color making up much more of the profession. The teaching force remains overwhelmingly white, even as about half of the students attending public schools in the U.S. are students of color.

The statistics are particularly grim for black teachers.

Between 1987 and 2015, the number of black teachers increased from around 191,000 to 256,000. But the share of teachers who are black has actually declined, from 8.2 percent to 6.7 percent. That’s possible, again, because the teaching corps as a whole has grown significantly during that same period, outpacing the increase in students.

These trends haven’t played out the same way for all teachers of color. Over that same period, the number and the share of Hispanic teachers have both grown substantially, jumping from 69,000 to 338,000 and from 3 to 8.8 percent of the total teaching force.

Why has the progress, in terms of increasing the share of non-white teachers, been so modest?

Ingersoll documents that teachers of color have particularly high turnover rates, and shows that is largely a function of where they work: in segregated schools that have particularly high attrition rates. That’s in line with other detailed research out of North Carolina.

Additional expectations of teachers of color — such as black men being tasked with serving as disciplinarians — also may contribute to burnout.

Other possible explanations include certification processes that disproportionately screen out prospective teachers of color; the stagnation in teacher salaries over a similar period; and schools of education that may not prioritize recruiting students of color.

For more, see https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2018/11/29/teachers-of-color-diversity-public-school-trends-data/