In-Class Support: Survey Finds Teachers Lack in Diversity

By Chris Hoenig


America’s teachers don’t reflect the diverse student bodies they teach, according to a new survey from the Center for American Progress.

In fact, the percentage of nonwhite teachers is not greater than or equal to the percentage of nonwhite students in any of the 50 states or the District of Columbia.

“These findings are disturbing. Given an ever-diversifying student body, we need to do far more to diversify our teacher workforce,” study authors Farah Ahmad and Ulrich Boser write.

“There is a large demographic mismatch between students and teachers of color. This matters because students of color need teachers who not only set rigorous standards for them but teachers who also can provide models of professional success. Teachers of color have demonstrated success in increasing the academic achievement of students of similar backgrounds.”

Vermont leads the nation in proportional teacher diversity, with only a four-percentage-point difference between nonwhite teachers and nonwhite students. Maine, West Virginia and New Hampshire are the only other states, however, where that gap is in the single digits.

California was the worst offending state: 73 percent of students there are nonwhite, but only 29 percent of teachers, creating a diversity gap of 44 percentage points. Nevada (42 percentage points) and Maryland (38 percentage points) follow close behind. Arizona—where 57 percent of students and only 20 percent of teachers are nonwhite, a difference of 37 percentage points—has the fourth-largest gap.

According to the study data, 23 percent of America’s students are Latino, 16 percent are Black and 5 percent are Asian—for a total of 48 percent. A quick look at historic data show that number is only likely to grow, however—in 1993, nonwhite students made up less than one-third of public school population, while the number was 41 percent in 2003.

“We project that this fall, for the first time in American history, the majority of public-school students in America will be nonwhite,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently.

The national diversity gap sits around 30 percentage points. A 2012 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 82 percent of America’s 3.3 million teachers were white, 8 percent were Latino, 7 percent were Black and 2 percent were Asian.

The largest gaps were seen between Latino teachers and students—Nevada was cited as an example, with a 39 percent Latino student population, but only 9 percent of teachers being Latino.

“Even in a place like North Dakota, where the students aren’t particularly diverse relative to the rest of the country, it’s important for our social fabric, for our sense as a nation, that students are engaging with people who think, talk and act differently than them but can also be just as effective at raising student achievement in the classroom,” Boser said.

The researchers found that many districts had even larger gaps than their state-level statistics. In California’s Santa Ana Unified School District, less than 3 percent of the student body is white, but whites make up 65 percent of the teaching staff. Seventy-four percent of students, meanwhile, are Latino, compared with just 34 percent of teachers.

In Boston, where there is a 30-percentage-point gap between Latino students and teachers, the district is currently in violation of a federal court order to diversify its workforce, due to a teaching staff that is only 21 percent Black. Other Massachusetts districts face similar problems: Chelsea Public Schools have a 76-percentage-point gap between Latino students and teachers; Randolph Public Schools have a student body that is majority-Black (52 percent), but only 5 percent of its teachers are Black.

Similar numbers are also seen in Hardee County, Fla., where 58 percent of students are Latino, but only 8 percent of teachers.

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