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August 18, 2022
Vol. 80
No. 2
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How Diverse Is the Teaching Force?

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New research shows where we’ve made progress and what still needs work, especially to retain educators of color. 

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How Diverse is the Teaching Force?
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There is widespread agreement that our elementary and secondary teaching force should look more like America, demographically. But as the nation’s population has gotten more racially and ethnically diverse, it’s widely believed that this has not happened. The result, research suggests, is that students of color increasingly lack adult role models and interaction with teachers who share their racial and cultural background—all of which worsens the achievement gap. In short, a lack of teacher diversity has become a major civil rights issue today.   
The solution, understandably enough, has been to try to recruit more candidates from under-represented racial-ethnic groups into teaching. And, in recent decades, numerous government and nongovernment organizations have tried a variety of teacher-recruitment programs and initiatives. By 2010, over half of U.S. states had instituted policies or programs to recruit teachers of color. Many of these initiatives are designed to recruit teachers from under-represented racial-ethnic groups specifically to teach in schools serving racially diverse student populations, often in low-income, urban school districts.  
This all raises a big question: Have these efforts been successful? How diverse is the teaching force? And has the situation changed one way or the other in recent decades?  

A “Bird’s-Eye” Portrait

In recent years, we have analyzed the best national data available to uncover what trends and changes have occurred in the diversity of the K-12 teaching force over time. The objective of our study is to provide a big-picture, “bird’s-eye” portrait of the degree of diversity in the teaching force and to what extent this has, or has not, changed over the past 30 years. Our main data source is the nationally representative Schools and Staffing Survey/National Teacher Principal Survey administered by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education. This is the largest and most-comprehensive data source available on teachers and has been administered nine times over a 30-year period—1988 to 2018.  
We have been surprised by what we found. There is both good and bad news. Here are our five key findings: 

#1. The teaching force remains primarily white, and a gap continues to persist between the percentage of students and the percentage of teachers from underrepresented racial-ethnic groups. 

In 2018, approximately 40 percent of the nation’s population, and 51 percent of all elementary and secondary school students, were from underrepresented racial-ethnic groups. But only 20 percent of all K-12 teachers were from underrepresented racial-ethnic groups. This student-teacher parity gap holds for each of the main racial subgroups—Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American/Indigenous. (See Figure 1.) 
Ingersoll Fig 1

#2. The number of teachers of color in schools has dramatically increased in the last few decades. 

Even though a gap persists, this portrait has been changing. While it remains true that the teaching force does not look like America, this is decreasingly true. Our data show that the gap is not due to a failure to recruit teachers of color. In fact, there has been a large surge in the numbers of teachers of color in schools. Since the late 1980s, the number of elementary and secondary teachers of color has increased by 148 percent. 
In 1988, there were about 327,000 teachers of color employed in schools; by 2018, there were over 810,000 such teachers. In the three decades since the late 1980s, the number of teachers of color has increased at more than three times the rate of the number of White, non-Hispanic teachers. Most notably, during this period, for Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, increases in teachers outpaced increases in students (see Figure 2). The percent of all teachers who belonged to underrepresented groups increased from 12.5 percent in 1988 to 20 percent in 2018. So, while there remains a large student–teacher parity gap, the teaching force has grown more diverse in the past three decades. This is something of an under-recognized success story. 
However, this success story is mixed. The data also show large differences in the pace of these teacher increases by group. For instance, the number of Asian teachers increased by 263 percent, while the number of Hispanic teachers increased by 373 percent, but the number of Black teachers increased by only 29 percent, and the number of Native American teachers has decreased. It’s unclear why there are such large differences.  
Ingersoll Fig 2

#3. The increase in recruitment of teachers of color varies widely across different types of schools. 

This story is also mixed in another way. The increase in employment of teachers of color varies widely across states and regions and has been especially uneven across different types of schools. Most of the increase has been in high-poverty public schools. Teachers of color are two to three times more likely than white, non-Hispanic teachers to work in hard-to-staff schools serving low-income, highly diverse, urban communities. There are very few teachers of color in more affluent suburban schools, and this pattern has shown little change over time.   
This unevenness may be the unintended consequence of initiatives explicitly designed to recruit teachers from under-represented racial-ethnic groups to teach in these types of urban schools. So, while the widespread efforts over recent decades to recruit more teachers of color to schools serving disadvantaged student populations has been very successful, it also means there are relatively few such teachers in other types of schools. (See Figure 3.) 
Ingersoll Fig 3

#4. Recruited teachers of color are leaving their schools, or leaving teaching altogether, at high rates.  

The diversification of the teaching force is all the more remarkable because it has occurred in spite of a relatively high turnover and quit rate among teachers from underrepresented racial-ethnic groups. While members of these groups have entered teaching at higher rates than whites in recent decades, they have also left schools at higher rates. Indeed, the race gap in turnover has widened since the mid-1990s. Male teachers of color have especially high turnover.   
Most recently, we have analyzed national data on the attrition rates of college grads who became teachers. We examined 2007-2008 college graduates who entered teaching at any point between graduation and the 2017-2018 school year(ten years after their graduation) and then determined how many were no longer teaching as of July, 2018. The finding: 59percent of white, non-Hispanic teachers in this cohort had left teaching by 2018, while 72 percent of teachers of color in the cohort left during that same period—a 22 percent higher rate. (See Figure 4.) 
Ingersoll Fig 4

#5. Working and job conditions in schools are the main factors driving teacher turnover. 

The same difficult-to-staff schools that are more likely to employ teachers of color are also more likely to offer less-than-desirable working conditions, and these conditions largely account for the higher rates of teacher turnover. Over half of teachers of color who have departed their schools report that job dissatisfaction was a large part of their decision.  
Interestingly, the job and working conditions most strongly related to dissatisfaction and turnover are not salaries or benefits, but issues connected to the governance and leadership inside buildings. In particular, two factors stand out as strongly related to turnover: The degree of autonomy and discretion teachers are allowed over issues and decisions in their classrooms, and the level of collective faculty influence over schoolwide decisions that affect teachers’ jobs. This is an important finding. Improving the latter is far less expensive than improving salaries and benefits. And improving such working and job conditions are ostensibly amenable to policy changes and lie in the realm of school leadership and management.  

What Can Policymakers and School Leaders Do?

Increasing teacher recruitment has long been the dominant strategy for diversifying the teaching force. And nothing in our research suggests that bringing new, qualified candidates from underrepresented racial-ethnic groups into teaching isn’t worthwhile. Indeed, this approach has had remarkable success. But bringing more candidates into teaching will not solve the shortage problem if large numbers of those teachers leave in a few years.  
These high levels of turnover are undermining efforts to diversify the teaching force. To address this problem, schools must develop teacher recruitment and retention initiatives simultaneously. It makes no sense to put substantial money and effort into recruiting teachers of color to teach in schools serving disadvantaged students if those schools then lose those same teachers at high rates. Schools must look closely at their working and job conditions to retain the staff they recruit. The data suggest a relatively effective and also low-cost strategy is to provide avenues for faculty to have “voice” into the key decisions in the school that impact their work.  
Finally, it’s also important to acknowledge that the most recent available national data we analyzed are pre-pandemic. This raises the question of whether our data are dated and no longer relevant. We think not. Understanding the larger context and using data to diagnose the source of ongoing problems in the teaching force over past decades is essential to understanding how to fix problems. We predict that the 30-year trends we have found will continue.   
Moreover, we believe our findings are more relevant than ever. All indications are that teacher turnover has been going up and will continue to do so as the pandemic resides. Teachers have been subject to a lot of pent-up stress during the pandemic, and as the economy improves, teachers have, and will look for, other employment options. This will be especially true for low-income urban schools, where teachers of color are mostly employed. Addressing high teacher turnover in the next decade will be more important than ever.   

Editor's Note: A shortened version of this article appeared in the October 2022 print edition of Educational Leadership, with the title "5 Findings on Teacher Diversity."
End Notes

This article is drawn from: Ingersoll, May, Collins, & Fletcher. (2022). “Trends in the Recruitment, Employment and Retention of Teachers from Under-Represented Racial-Ethnic Groups.” Pp. 823-839 in Handbook of Research on Teachers of Color and Indigenous Teachers. Edited by C. Gist & T. Bristol. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association. Copyright (2022) by the American Educational Research Association. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. Also see Ingersoll, May and Collins. 2019. “Recruitment, Employment, Retention and the Minority Teacher Shortage.” Education Policy Analysis Archives. 27(37). All statistics and data mentioned in the article are drawn from the Schools and Staffing Survey/National Teacher Principal Survey; U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey; and the Baccalaureate and Beyond Survey 2008–2018. 

Richard Ingersoll is a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. A former high school teacher, he is a leading expert on the elementary and secondary teaching force in the U.S.

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