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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Here’s Why We Don’t Have More Educators of Color (And What We Can Do About It)

Teacher racial diversity is one of the most discussed issues in education. Nationally, approximately 20 percent of educators identify as People of Color while the remaining 80 percent of educators identify as White. Despite the relatively low percentage of teachers of Color across the U.S., states have seen a significantly higher increase in the number of teachers of Color than White teachers due to a variety of recruitment initiatives and programs. They, however, are more likely to leave the teaching profession and often work in low-performing, underfunded schools. While a history of racially-biased hiring practices has contributed to the shortage of educators of color, challenging work conditions and unsupportive school environments have prevented schools from making any significant progress in expanding teacher racial diversity.

In 1953, a Black Kansas-based educator named Darla Buchanan received a letter from Topeka, Kansas Superintendent of Schools Wendell Godwin stating:

“If the Supreme Court should rule that segregation in the elementary grades is unconstitutional, our Board will proceed on the assumption that the majority of people in Topeka will not want to employ Negro teachers next year for white children. It is necessary for me to notify you now that your services will not be needed for next year."

This letter was a preemptive measure in anticipation of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision. The ruling ushered in an era of mandated school integration - meaning intentionally racially segregated schools were no longer permissible in the eyes of the law.

Prior to this landmark case, approximately 82,000 Black teachers worked in legally segregated schools located predominantly across the south. After the Supreme Court’s decision, more than 38,000 Black teachers lost their jobs.

Many people may assume issues with teacher integration resided solely in the southern states. Beyond the South, however, one of every seventy-two teachers identified as Black compared to nearly one of every five teachers in the southern segregated states.

The negative consequences of school integration not only affected Black classroom educators but Black school leaders as well. Newly integrated school systems predominantly led by White educators fired and demoted thousands of Black principals. Without the presence of Black leadership at the system level, Black students possessed few advocates who could influence systemic change.

Following Brown v. Board, the majority of segregated school districts did not develop any type of plan to fully integrate students. Considering many Black school leaders no longer possessed influence in school districts, no internal force existed to pressure schools into creating a plan for desegregation. Instead, many districts closed Black schools and sent Black students to White schools with a predominantly white staff.

Beyond Brown v. Board and the context of the South, American schools struggled to respond to increasing diversity as more immigrants entered the country.  Schools during this time focused heavily on Americanization as they forced immigrant students to assimilate to mainstream American culture.  This along with restrictive policies, ill-advised beliefs, and significant barriers kept other communities of color from accessing teaching as a profession.

In the 1980s, the Ford Foundation and Dewitt Wallace Reader's Digest committed more than $60 million to support teacher preparation programs and recruitment for teachers of color. The initiatives that were developed in the next decade focused on recruiting teachers of color to work specifically in schools with a high population of students of color.

Today, more than half of the states have teacher recruitment policies or programs targeting underrepresented populations. Despite these ongoing reports, however, many commentators see little success, claiming that, if anything, the student-teacher diversity gap has widened (e.g., Villegas, Strom and Lucas, 2012).

In 2014, a majority of students entering U.S. public schools were of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent – a monumental first in U.S. history.  Despite the growing number of students of color, the number of educators of color only has hovered around twenty percent.

To exacerbate the issue, educators of color also leave the education profession at a higher rate than their white counterparts.  If teachers of color already make up a small share of the education workforce and leave the classroom in higher numbers, few ultimately become local and national education leaders.

To address this issue, we must create inclusive spaces in the schools, agencies, and organizations that value the rich diversity of our nation.  We must also make empathy a critical component of every approach to develop culturally responsive schools. It is imperative we intentionally cultivate a leadership pipeline that reflects the racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds of our students.  We can no longer stand aside and hope it’ll all work itself out nor can we sit hopelessly wringing our hands because we think it’s impossible. We need a proactive approach that centers collaboration and values strong relationships.

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