Disproportionate diversity: Impacts of teacher racial diversity on Pennsylvania and TESD schools


By Jui Bhatia, Aren Framil, and Soumya Sathyanarayana, Managing Editor, Co-Design Editor, and Co-Webmaster When sophomore Senae Harris thinks back to her time at Valley Forge Elementary School, she recalls walking through the hallway and seeing the only Black teacher in the school — one who never taught her. “In elementary school, I didn’t even...

By Jui Bhatia, Aren Framil, and Soumya Sathyanarayana, Managing Editor, Co-Design Editor, and Co-Webmaster

When sophomore Senae Harris thinks back to her time at Valley Forge Elementary School, she recalls walking through the hallway and seeing the only Black teacher in the school — one who never taught her.

“In elementary school, I didn’t even have the only African American teacher in the school, Mrs. Hayes, but just seeing her in the hallway made me feel so special,” Harris said. “Seeing somebody that looks like you makes you feel like you can do anything.”

In 2017, when Harris completed fourth grade, she was one of the 40% of the 532 students at Valley Forge Elementary School whose guardians identified them as people of color. In the same year, 9% of the 32 teachers at the school self-reported as non-white.

Today, these percentages remain the same at a district-wide level. At the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, 40% of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District’s student body self-reported as non-white during registration, as did 9% of the staff, according to Dr. Oscar Torres, Director of Equity and Public Programs for TESD. 

At Conestoga, the pattern is similar to the district as a whole, with 37% of students and 9% of teachers self-reporting as non-white (see pg. 3, Fig. 1).

In 2021, TESD ranked second in Chester County in teacher diversity after Coatesville Area School District.

Across Pennsylvania, 99% of public school districts have a lower racial diversity rate among their teaching staff than among their student population, according to the nonprofit research education organization Research for Action. 

In April 2022, RFA released its project “The Need for More Teachers of Color,” which investigated the racial diversity among teachers in Pennsylvania. In TESD, teachers self-report their race when the district first employs them.

The study found that in 36% of Pennsylvania public school districts, there is not one teacher of color, and in 56% of Pennsylvania public school districts, teachers of color make up less than 5% of the teaching staff. 

In 7% of districts — including TESD — teachers of color make up 5-20 percent of the teaching staff.

Effects of racially diverse teachers on student performance

A low racial diversity rate among teachers can have educational consequences for students. Without racially diverse teachers, students are more likely to miss out on the important perspectives teachers of color can offer, according to Leanna Cabral, a Research Associate for RFA’s project.

“Students of color are more successful in their academic journey when they have teachers of color; they feel more seen and affirmed, they perform better academically and they’re just more successful when they have teachers that look like them,” Cabral said.

Senior Nargis Wardak, who identifies as Afghan-American, feels that although the district is improving, there is still a long way to go, and continuing to pursue racial diversity in education is important for both students and teachers alike. 

“The majority of teachers (in the district) are white. I’ve been here for eight years, since middle school. I feel like, in the district, I couldn’t really relate to any of my teachers or empty out my problems to my teachers, as they wouldn’t understand because they don’t have the same experience in life,” Wardak said.

A 2021 study by David Blazar, an Associate Professor of Education Policy at Brown University, found that when fourth and fifth-grade students of all races had a teacher of color, they “performed better on end-of-year exams, were more engaged in class, and attended school more often.” These trends persisted up to six years later.

Similarly, Torres has seen firsthand how racially diverse educators can benefit students of all races.

“As educators, we bring ourselves to the classroom. We’re teaching not only the content but the connection that we have with the content and the impact that we have on our students,” Torres said. “When I was teaching, I would give a little piece of my story to my students, and I remember some of them would say, ‘I never knew that.’ (Personal stories) help all of us to better understand each other.” 

Senior Ariana Tanha, who was a student of a teacher of color for the first time in her junior year, feels that racially diverse teachers add depth to a class’s content.

“I get that all teachers teach the same material, but if you have teachers of color, they would provide different insights,” Tanha said. “They would give you different opinions and perspectives.”

A lack of racial diversity among teaching staffs also affects discipline and attendance rates. The Future Ready PA Index, a Pennsylvania Department of Education database submitted by public school districts across the state, found that Black students in TESD, who make up 3% of the population, make up 10% of disciplinary action (see Fig. 4).

A 2021 study by Brown University states that Black, Asian and Latinx students who have at least one teacher of the same race are 3% less likely to face suspension than if they only had teachers of other races.

English teacher and African American Student Union (AASU) adviser Christopher Brown attributes the imbalance in disciplinary rates between students of color and white students to cultural differences between teachers of color and white teachers.

“As a former administrator (in another district), I noticed that there were fewer absences and fewer disciplinary infractions with students when they had diverse teachers because diverse teachers were able to understand the culture and the background of the students, and with that, you eliminate implicit biases,” Brown said.

Acquiring racially diverse teachers

The national pool of teachers has a lower level of racial diversity than the pool of students, with teachers of color making up 6% of the workforce in the 2020-2021 school year, according to RFA. School districts often compete with each other to attract candidates of color.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education attributes the small hiring pool to the fact that, in general, fewer people are choosing education as a career, with enrollment in undergraduate programs for education dropping by 11% from 2020 to 2022. 

From this already small pool, despite making up 40% of the national population, people of color make up 13% of undergraduate education program enrollees, according to RFA.

Dr. Anthony Stevenson, the Director of Human Resources for TESD, partially attributes the low number of teachers of color in the hiring pool to the generational effects that Black educators — like his parents — faced post-segregation.

“My parents were first-generation college graduates, and they grew up in the segregated south. Teaching became the only option they had,” Stevenson said. “But, when it came to my generation and then the next, there are more opportunities they have where they can afford occupational aspirations.”

Accompanying the integration of schools in the 1960s was a 32% decrease in the employment of Black teachers in the South, according to study by Faculty Research Fellow Owen Thompson from the National Bureau of Economic Research. School districts fired Black teachers en masse during integration, as some white parents and administrators did not want Black educators teaching their children. From then on, American education of both Black and white students largely fell to white teachers. 

Presently, the majority-white teacher workforce is a deterrent for teachers of color when applying for jobs, according to Stevenson.

“When you don’t have a diverse pool, sometimes it’s harder to attract folks because they don’t want to be (the) only person (of color) there,” Stevenson said.

Retaining racially diverse teachers

Ryan Howard, a new U.S. History and Government teacher at Conestoga, found that when he worked for the Owen J. Roberts School District, he ended up being the only voice speaking on diversity-related matters. He also experienced “overt racism and microaggressions,” which played a role in his ultimate decision to leave and seek a new job.

“As the only (Black) voice in my old school, I almost got to the point where I felt like I was the militant beating the drum every day,” Howard said. “It’s nice to have a place where there is more than one voice of a diverse background.”

Brown agrees with how stressful being the only voice can be and adds that the pressure to respond to diversity-related matters “leads to burnout.” 

In his experience, affinity groups help with teacher retention and reduce the possibility of burnout because they provide much-needed support for teachers of color. Conestoga created an affinity group for teachers of color in the 2020-2021 school year, but according to Brown, it has not held consistent meetings in recent years.

Cabral, while conducting research for RFA, found that support systems among colleagues — such as affinity groups — are important to teacher retention. 

“When there are more teachers of color, other teachers of color feel more comfortable. They feel like there are others who may share experiences and commitments that they have. They don’t feel like the token person of color,” Cabral said. 

Dr. Wendy Towle, TESD’s Director of Instruction, Staff Development and Planning, recognizes the importance of attracting teachers of color to the district. To do so, TESD has reached out to organizations that are dedicated to increasing diverse educators’ visibility as candidates for teaching jobs.

“The first thing we do when we have a position available is we advertise it. We’ve been trying to broaden our reach to get the information out to a more diverse population. We use LinkedIn or organizations like the Delaware Valley Consortium for Equity and Excellence,” Towle said. “Actually, I first met Mr. Brown through an online job fair for diverse candidates.”

As of this school year, seven of the 42 newly-hired teachers self-identify as non-white. 

“I’m witnessing how the school is changing. It’s becoming way more diverse,” Wardak said. “We still have a long way to go, but it’s taking huge leaps and becoming more diverse because everyone is coming here.”


Jui Bhatia can be reached at [email protected]

Aren Framil can be reached at [email protected]

Soumya Sathyanarayana can be reached at [email protected]

© 2022 Spoke.News. All rights reserved.