A cottage industry of studies shows the critical relationship between having a same-race teacher and a host of short- and long- term educational outcomes, including test scores, expectations, disciplinary actions, college intent, and more. This research relies on state longitudinal administrative data that allow researchers to use a host of designs to estimate these relationships. In a variety of settings, black students do better when they have a black teacher.

These studies’ conclusions engender mixed reactions from the field. At a basic level, one policy implication is to diversify the teacher workforce, which we know is not representative of the public-school student population. So from a bureaucratic representation standpoint in which teachers are viewed as street-level bureaucrats, educators should be more diverse writ large. Yet the preponderance of this research goes further and claims that the actual matching of teachers to students is what makes the differences. The results also have uncomfortable implications for the role that white teachers are playing with students of color. At the most cynical level, these findings can be used to make arguments for segregated schools and classrooms.

Regardless of how we grapple with the implications of these studies, however, we need to start considering the mechanisms through which these matches make a difference and how we might intervene to reap some of the positive benefits. Doing so stands to affect every stage of the teacher human capital pipeline, from educator preparation through retention. Are these matches unique to certain settings, for example? And how do these relationships work in majority-students-of-color settings?

New research from the Fordham Institute is a unique contribution to this literature because it explores how these matches might differ according to a school’s governance structure—i.e., whether it’s a charter or a traditional public school. The author, Seth Gershenson, finds that charter schools in North Carolina have more diverse teachers, as well as suggestive evidence that race-match effects are stronger in charter schools. These results are interesting because they offer more evidence that diverse teachers can lead to better outcomes for diverse students. More importantly, this provides us with actionable evidence around a potential mechanism.

The Fordham report also offers more support for promising policy interventions that might help stakeholders attain more diverse workforces. It observes, for instance, that one potential reason for charters’ more diverse faculty is that the sector is more likely to employ educators from alternative training routes. These tend to be more diverse than traditional schools of education, in part because many explicitly focus on producing teachers of color. Elsewhere, I have written about the potential of Grow Your Own programs as one way that local districts can increase diversity and best meet the needs of their students. Such initiatives can be classified under the broad range of alternative, nontraditional ways that teachers can enter the classroom. There is also room for Federal policy to support these programs.

Race/ethnicity-match studies have uncovered some interesting relationships that provide a compelling lever to close persistently stubborn achievement gaps. Moving forward, we should continue to document these relationships but keep an eye on the mechanisms and settings in which we see these effects. Traditional public schools can learn from charters on the question of educator diversity.

Constance Lindsay is a research associate at the Urban Institute, where she studies K–12 education policies.