How Diversity Makes us Smarter & Why We Need More Educators of Color

How Diversity Makes us Smarter & Why We Need More Educators of Color

The American public school system has a diversity problem. According to this study from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2017-18, 79 percent of teachers in the United States were white. That means that only 21 percent of teachers were people of color, compared to the 50 percent of students who identify as people of color. Only 7 percent of American public school teachers today are black. Only 2 percent of teachers are black men. 

Additionally, according to an article published by the Brown Center of Education Policy about teacher diversity in America, “teaching has grown slowly less attractive to people of color, as evidenced by the larger diversity gaps across generations.” 

While the public teacher workforce has grown more diverse since the 1980s, as demonstrated by Ingersoll and Merrill, “the decades-long increases in racial diversity are more due to the fact that Generation X and millennials, in general, are more diverse than prior generations, not because schools are getting better at attracting and retaining teachers of color.” 

Years of research demonstrate that both white and non-white students benefit from having a diverse group of teachers. Here’s why:

1. Diversity makes us – all of us – smarter.  

This finding is courtesy of an article published in Harvard Ed Magazine titled “How racially diverse schools and classrooms can benefit all students.” Researchers conclude that students’ exposure to diverse peers and the “novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings” leads to deeper critical thinking and problem-solving. 

2. Teachers, like good literature, provide windows and mirrors.

The idea of windows and mirrors first came from Emily Style. The “mirror” is a story (or teacher) who reflects your own culture and helps you build your own identity. The “window,” on the other hand, allows you to peer into someone else’s experience and builds empathy by encouraging you to understand their unique human experience. In this way, a diverse population of teachers can act as role models for youth. 

3. A diverse teacher workforce is necessary to advance educational equity.

The diversity of students in America is expected to increase exponentially, and an equity lens dictates that all students have access to the resources they need to not just succeed but to thrive in the school system. 

4. Racial diversity benefits every workforce.

An article published by the Center for American Progress explains that diversity helps build a stronger company and stronger economy. Today’s students will enter a diverse workforce, and employers value students versed in thriving in such an atmosphere, as can be cultivated in a childhood classroom. 

5. Students of color are less likely to be disciplined by teachers of color.

According to a paper published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, students of color are disciplined at disproportionately higher rates in our schools.

6. Students of color are more likely to be identified as talented and gifted.

Students of color are again disproportionately under-identified today. A 2017 article in the Elementary School Journal concludes, “We find that schools with larger numbers of Black teachers or a Black principal have greater representation of Black students in gifted programs. We find a similar relationship for Hispanic teachers and representation of Hispanic students. Further evidence suggests that a critical mass of teachers of color is necessary for teacher race/ethnicity to be associated with higher representation of students of color in gifted programs.”

In March 2018, the Council of Chief State School Officers launched the DLRT to increase the diversity of the nation’s teacher workforce.

“States recognize that to be successful in this work they need to work towards a future where all students, regardless of race, experience teaching and learning with teachers of color during their PK12 schooling experience. This requires that states work in partnership with local education agencies and educator preparation providers through an equity lens to effectively address diversity gaps,” according to this DLRT document. 

So how to fix the diversity problem? The DLRT offers four recommendations:

  1. Revise and enforce licensure standards and accompanying assessments to ensure a culturally responsive teacher workforce.
  2. Analyze and monitor teacher licensure requirements.
  3. Invest in multiple pathways into teaching to increase the ethno-racial diversity of the teacher workforce and retain teachers of color.
  4. Adopt and implement rigorous approval standards to assure that teacher preparation programs recruit candidates from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds and produce quality candidates of all backgrounds who are capable of demonstrating culturally responsive practices.


How Diversity Makes us Smarter & Why We Need More Educators of Color

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I am an unrepentant lover of words - and lucky me, I spend all day, every day immersed in them. When I'm not teaching, I'm reading. Or writing. Or teaching eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) adolescents about the power of the written word. I live on the scenic Oregon Coast with my dog, two cats, and five-year-old son.

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