Decades of research show increases in teacher diversity, encouraging for a profession that’s long been disproportionately white and female. But some recent entries have undermined this trend by suggesting that millennial teachers are becoming less diverse relative to America’s workforce. In a new study, Brookings researchers Michael Hanson and Diane Quintero look at these issues by examining how diversity has fluctuated with age across three generations.

They analyzed six sets of American Community Survey results between 1990 and 2015. Teachers were then grouped into one of three generations determined by their birth year: baby boomers (born 1946–64), Generation Xers (born 1965–79), and millennials (born 1980–96). They calculated the percentage of nonwhite teachers and the percentage of nonwhite full-time college-educated workers for each generation, and how that percentage changed as individuals in each generation aged and more diverse teachers entered the workforce later in their lives and careers.

Hanson and Quintero find that, yes, millennial teachers are less diverse than Generation Xers, but also that this may be because millennials are still very young. Their data show that the diversity of the teacher workforce increases as it ages, regardless of generation. In other words, young educators are less diverse than old ones. This is in part caused by nonwhite teachers enter the field later, on average, than their white counterparts: 29.8 and 28.4 years of age, respectively. Hanson and Quintero speculate that this might be caused in part by nonwhite teachers being more likely to enter the profession through alternate certification programs rather than traditional teacher preparatory programs. Diversity peaks in the late 30s and 40s, yet the oldest millennial teacher is just thirty-nine. Diversity among Gen Xers educators trended similarly.

However students and the college-educated workforce are becoming more diverse more rapidly than teachers. A previous Brookings report found that in 2060 white children will make up only 34 percent of the student body. Closing the racial gap in that time would require around one million white teachers to leave the profession and for 600,000 Hispanic and 300,000 black teachers to replace them. And compared to all college-graduated full-time workers, Hansen and Quintero observe that the proportion of white teachers are more than 10 percentage points higher than the proportion in other field. This gap is considerably larger than it was for baby boomers and Gen Xers, which were 7 and 3 percentage points, respectively. 

These findings are concerning, at best, especially given the ample evidence that same-race teachers boost the outcomes of minority students. States, districts, and teacher-training programs should therefore look for ways to recruit, hire, and retain more high-quality educators of color. Other industries are doing it. Why can’t education?

SOURCE: Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero, “The Diversity Gap for Public School Teachers Is Actually Growing across Generations,” Brookings Institution (March 2019).

Sophie Sussman was a research intern with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (2018–19), during which time she had been pursuing a master's degree in education policy at the George Washington University. She also has a bachelor's degree in early childhood education (PreK–Grade 5) from the University of Georgia. Sophie's interests include curriculum, teacher quality and assessment as a basis of ensuring high quality education…

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