Response: The Teachers of Color 'Disappearance Crisis'

This content was first published in Larry Ferlazzo's blog in Education Week.

What impact can having more teachers of color have on our schools and what needs to be done to make it happen? 

Response by Travis J. Bristol

Diversity drives innovation according to a recent study by Forbes of 321 global executives in companies with annual revenue of $500 million (see here). Executives state that a diverse workforce is integral to allowing their organizations to devise creative solutions to challenging problems. America's schools should pay attention to this finding. 

At the very moment policy makers, such as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, advocate for increasing the ethnic/racial diversity of the teaching profession (see here and here) - teachers of color are disappearing. In city after city across these United States - Latino and Black teachers are exiting or quite possibly being forced out of the profession. This disappearance is most pronounced in urban centers. For example, in 2004, Latino teachers were 38% of all Chicago public schools' teachers; today, they are 19% (see here). Similarly, in New Orleans public schools, Black teachers were 75% of all teachers; today, they are 54% (see here). Similar patterns hold in Boston (see here) - a school district still under a federal court desegregation order to diversify the teacher force. 

We can't have a conversation about the role of teachers of color in schools or increasing the number teachers of color without, first, addressing this disappearance crisis. Simply put, if there is a leak in the faucet, the solution is not to keep pouring water down the drain. The solution should be to identify what's causing the leak and, then, insert a patch. For researchers and policymakers, this is an important opportunity to explore why teachers of color are disappearing and, more importantly, to design polices that address this disappearance crisis. 

Why should we care that the teaching force in America's schools is becoming less diverse? Shouldn't the quality of the teacher matter more than the teacher's race in improving learning outcomes? While there are nationally representative data that find increases in learning when students have a same race teacher (see here and here), there is, of course, a great danger in suggesting that simply providing Latino and Black children with Latino and Black teachers will close persistent learning gaps. Given our flat or interconnected world (see here), all children need a diverse teaching force to prepare them to be global citizens. 

Finally, a diverse teaching force (i.e. increasing the number of teachers of color) isn't only good for students, but has the potential to create professional learning opportunities for teachers inside of schools. Similar to the realization by the 321 global executives, increasing the number of teachers of color in America's schools can facilitate creative solutions to solving challenging problems - such as improving learning for historically marginalized students. Latino, Asian, and Black teachers are well positioned to bring new ideas to their colleagues on how to make the curriculum culturally responsive, for example. And, the presence of these teachers of color can serve as a sounding board to White teachers attempting to navigate unfamiliar cultural terrain. 

Diversity drives innovation: America's schools should pay attention.