A new analysis from the National Council on Teacher Quality and the Brookings Institution examines the demographic gap between the current teaching workforce and students; its causes; ways to close it; and whether it will grow or shrink in the future. To do this, researchers pulled together data from a wide variety of sources, including the Census and National Center for Education Statistics, and used both descriptive analyses and projections.
Research clearly shows that regular interactions between students and adults of their own and different races is beneficial for academic achievement and behavior. Thus, the authors take as given that having a diverse workforce, in which teacher demographics mirror those of the student population, is a common goal for schools. (At the same time, the authors acknowledge that diversity does not supersede teacher quality as a driver of positive outcomes.)
The authors find that the pool of available minority teachers does not match the diversity of students now, and they predict that the mismatch will grow in the future. Minority students make up half of the public school student population, while minority teachers constitute only 18 percent of the workforce. The gap is particularly large for Hispanic students—at present, 26 percent of U.S. students are Hispanic, but only 8 percent of teachers are. By 2060, those figures are projected to grow: 35 percent of students will be Hispanic, compared to only13 percent of teachers.
They identify four causes of the mismatch, which they call “leaks,” in the teacher pipeline. First, smaller proportions of the black and Hispanic populations earn a college degree, which is necessary to become a teacher. (The proportion of minorities who enter college mirrors the U.S. population, but minorities disproportionately do not complete it.) Second, a higher proportion of white college students major in education (7 percent, compared to 4 percent of black and 4 percent of Hispanic college students), and a higher proportion of white education majors actually express a desire to teach (95 percent, compared to 76 percent of black and 90 percent of Hispanic degree holders). Alternative certification programs might prioritize recruiting minority candidates, but participants in these programs account for a relatively small portion of the teaching pool. Third, white education majors who want to enter the teaching workforce are actually hired at greater rates than minority education majors. And fourth, white teachers have slightly higher retention rates than minority teachers.
The researchers then project a hypothetical situation in which college completion, education majors, teachers who are actually hired, and teacher retention occur at the same rates across races and ethnicities. The authors use this hypothetical to determine which of the four leaks in the teacher pipeline, if it were plugged, would have the greatest impact on the student-teacher demographic mismatch. The two leaks that occur later in the pipeline—hiring and retention—would be tempting targets, since districts can directly control and mitigate them. Unfortunately, equalizing hiring and retention rates across races and ethnicities doesn’t meaningfully affect the mismatch in the authors’ projections. So while districts might create initiatives to promote the hiring and retention of minority teachers, such as actively recruiting them and later providing them with leadership opportunities, these efforts alone will not close the demographic gap.
Increasing the proportion of minority college students majoring in education would narrow the gap more than equalizing hiring and retention rates, especially for Hispanic teachers and students. But doing so is challenging because of multiple competing forces. Other industries are also trying to build diverse workforces, and teaching is not particularly lucrative or appealing. Equalizing college graduation rates would also reduce the mismatch to a greater degree than any of the other strategies, especially for Hispanic teachers and students. (Happily, a recent Fordham analysis found that the “college completion agenda” has the potential to raise the number of Hispanic students who persist through post-secondary education.)
According to the authors’ models, the best approach is a combined one. Otherwise, they recommend that policies target the beginning of the teacher pipeline by increasing college completion and improving working conditions so that more minorities are interested in becoming teachers.
SOURCE: By Hannah Putman, Michael Hansen, Kate Walsh, and Diana Quintero, “High Hopes and Harsh Realities: The real challenges to building a diverse workforce,” Brookings (August 2016).