October 2017, Vol. 1

Teacher demographics and diversity challenges

by Amy Campbell
Texas prides itself on being different from other states—after all, we’re the only state that was once a nation—but how different are our teachers and students from the rest of the United States?
The US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently released results from its 2015–2016 National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), which collected data from a representative sample of public K-12 schools, teachers, and principals on a variety of topics, including teacher demographics. Review of the NTPS information in conjunction with student and teacher data from Texas sources highlights many differences between Texas and national teachers and students, as well as some similarities. 

Racial and ethnic distribution of students and teachers

White students comprise the majority of students nationwide (52.7 percent of total students), followed by Hispanic students (22.4 percent) and African American students (16.4 percent). In Texas, white students represent only 28.5 percent of total students. Minority students make up nearly three-quarters of the total student population in Texas, with Hispanic students representing the largest group at 52.2 percent, followed by African American students at 12.6 percent.
A majority-minority student population isn’t surprising, considering Texas is one of four states in the US, along with California, Hawaii, and New Mexico, where the majority of the adult population are minorities. Even though the overall population in Texas is majority-minority, white teachers still make up the largest group in the state (60.8 percent). Hispanic teachers represent 26.0 percent and African American teachers represent 10.1 percent of total teachers.
But, the Texas teaching workforce is more diverse than teachers nationally. Across the US, white teachers represent 80.1 percent of total teachers. Hispanic teachers are the second largest group at 8.8 percent of total teachers, followed by African American teachers at 6.7 percent.
Despite the relatively low proportion of minority teachers, the number of minority teachers nationwide has doubled over the past few decades. However, the increase hasn’t kept up with the growing minority student population or the changing diversity of the overall population. According to a study from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, closing the nationwide diversity gap would require that about a million white teachers leave teaching and be replaced by about 300,000 African American teachers and more than 600,000 Hispanic teachers. And that would only achieve parity with the current student population, the study points out. The student population will continue to become even more diverse each year, necessitating even more minority teachers.
African American and Hispanic teachers in Texas increased by 7 percent between 2011–2012 and 2015–2016, but in total these minority teachers still represent just over a third of total teachers, while minority students are more than two-thirds of total students and growing. 

The reasoning

So, why are there fewer teachers of color, both nationwide and in Texas? One barrier is the disparity in degree attainment between minorities and whites. A significantly smaller portion of the African American and Hispanic population earn bachelor’s degrees. In 2014–2015, the latest data available from NCES, 66.5 percent of all degrees conferred were granted to white students. Twelve percent were conferred to Hispanic students, and only 10.6 percent were conferred to African American students.
In Texas, those figures aren’t all that different. Nearly half of the degrees conferred in 2014–2015 were granted to white students (48.6 percent), while Hispanic students earned 28.9 percent and African American students earned 9.8 percent of total degrees conferred in the state.
Fewer minorities earning bachelor’s degrees means a smaller number of minorities available to become teachers. And are the minority graduates showing interest in teaching as a career? Unfortunately not. In its July 2016 “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce” report, the US Department of Education reported that only 25 percent of individuals enrolled in a teacher preparation program at an institution of higher education were people of color. In contrast, 37 percent of total students in those same institutions are students of color. 

Fixing the disparities

This issue is compounded by lower completion rates for minority students—those that are interested in teaching are not finishing their degrees at the same rate as white students. Nearly three-quarters of bachelor’s degree students majoring in education complete their degree within six years. However, only 43 percent of African American education majors and 49 percent of Hispanic education majors complete their degree in the same timeframe. So, more than half of the relatively small number of minority students with an interest in education never finish their education degree.
Some researchers point to this being a self-perpetuating problem: because the number of minority teachers hasn’t grown in proportion to the number of minority students, fewer minority students are taught by minority teachers. These students may not see teaching as a viable or valuable career choice for people of color because they lack minority teacher role models.
And national data shows that teachers of color are more likely to change schools or leave the profession entirely than their white colleagues. In 2012–2013, nearly 22 percent of African American teachers changed schools or left the profession, compared to only 15 percent of white teachers. The Brown Center study also shows that African American and Hispanic teachers are hired and retained at lower rates than their white colleagues. Four years after graduating, a higher proportion of white college graduates have worked as teachers compared to minority graduates. In other words, more minority teachers complete teacher prep programs but never get a teaching job, and those that are hired are more likely to leave than their white colleagues.
Why is teacher diversity important? Research from a variety of sources show that minority students benefit academically from having minority teachers. Researchers posit that minority students benefit from having role models that look like them in a position of authority, minority teachers are more likely to have high expectations for minority students, and minority teachers approach minority students differently than white teachers, in terms of instructional strategies and student discipline. And data shows a small but meaningful impact on test scores for students with a teacher of their race/ethnicity, with the largest improvements amounting to about an additional month of learning in a school year.
Fixing the diversity gap in Texas or across the US is not as easy as focusing on recruiting or hiring for diversity. Closing the gap will require additional steps to make meaningful improvements in developing and keeping a more diverse teacher workforce. We also need to make teaching a desirable profession for students of color to pursue, increase the college enrollment and completion rates of minority education majors, and help retain the teachers of color we already have.