We need more racial diversity in teachers

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By Shreya Vaidhyanathan, Opinion Editor The U.S. Department of Education finds that the elementary and secondary teacher workforce in the United States is neither as racially diverse as the students nor the population at large. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80% of public school teachers were white in the 2017-18 school...

By Shreya Vaidhyanathan, Opinion Editor

The U.S. Department of Education finds that the elementary and secondary teacher workforce in the United States is neither as racially diverse as the students nor the population at large. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80% of public school teachers were white in the 2017-18 school year, while approximately 50% of elementary and secondary public school students reported as white that same year.

Throughout my 11 years in the T/E School District, I have not once had a South Asian teacher, and I know many others who have had a similar experience. While there are certainly teachers of color within the district, they are few and far between. It is important that colleges handling enrollment and certification programs make serious efforts towards increasing diversity.

Non-profit public policy organization Brookings Institution notes that racial minority students often perform better on standardized tests, are less likely to drop out of high school and increasingly likely to pursue a 4-year college education when they have at least one teacher of the same race. Holistic benefits of a diverse teacher workforce are also abundant, ranging from improved attendance to a lower risk of suspension. 

Underrepresentation of racial minority teachers may affect minority students’ educational success, in turn limiting strong economic and social benefits students gain from graduating high school.

Harvard Education Magazine expands on Ohio State professor Rudine Sims Bishop’s idea of mirrors and windows in education — mirrors for allowing students to see themselves and windows to allow them to experience unfamiliar worlds. As a student of color in a predominantly white school district, I can attest that having teachers that look like me would have been beneficial, chiefly during crucial developmental years in elementary school. 

It is important to acknowledge that students of color are not the only ones benefiting from diversity in their teachers; a Brown University study confirmed that teachers of color are linked to academic, social-emotional and behavioral benefits for all students. Student perceptions of teachers of color tend to be more positive, as students reported feeling cared for and more academically challenged.

Some argue that, although marginal, there have been improvements in public school teacher diversity; in the 1987-88 school year, 87% of school teachers were white, compared with the aforementioned 80% in the 2017-18 school year. To this point, Pew Research states that while the number of “Black, Hispanic and Asian American teachers has increased in recent decades, it has not kept pace with the rapid growth in the racial and ethnic diversity of their students.” 

One solution some propose involves going straight to the recruitment sector of the hiring process and implementing various diversity initiatives. However, as found in a study conducted at University of Nebraska, recruitment is not the problem; instead, retention of these teachers is the real issue.

While school administrations can involve themselves, the solution starts at the state level; according to The Education Trust, states must “create the right policy conditions to support educator preparation programs … in their efforts to prepare, recruit and retain teachers of color.” So, make it known to your legislators that their constituents want to see policies relating to the treatment and retention of diverse teachers in public schools. In the name of students everywhere, this is a battle worth fighting.

 


Shreya Vaidhyanathan can be reached at [email protected]

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