According to the U.S. Department of Education, over half of the nation’s K-12 students are children of color, while about 80% of the educator workforce is white. States are increasingly interested in closing this diversity gap, as studies show that a more diverse teacher workforce benefits both students in the classroom and teachers already in the field.
All students benefit from having a teacher of color, but research shows that the impact is especially powerful for students of color. When taught by a teacher of color, students of color have improved academic performance and social and emotional learning. There is also evidence that increasing teacher workforce diversity benefits teachers of color by reducing feelings of isolation, frustration and fatigue.
Teacher equity data, financial incentives and grow-your-own programs are three policy levers states use in their efforts to increase teacher workforce diversity. In our 50-State Comparison on Teacher Recruitment and Retention, we found that at least 39 states publish some kind of teacher equity data, 11 states define at least one statewide financial incentive program for teachers of color in statute, and at least 34 states have grow-your-own programs aimed at recruiting high school students or paraprofessionals to teach in their own communities.
Making teacher equity data publicly available can help draw attention to the need for greater diversity in the teacher workforce and hold states and districts accountable for increasing diversity. While the Every Student Succeeds Act requires each state to submit a variety of plans and reports that include some data reporting, publicly reported data varies from state to state, and states are not required to report on teacher workforce demographics. Some states, like Massachusetts, publish data beyond what is required by ESSA. Among other publicly available data, Massachusetts reports the race and ethnicity of educator staff and publishes a race, ethnicity and gender staffing report that allows the data to be displayed by school and district, and provides the option to filter the data by staffing position.
Some states also leverage financial incentives to increase teacher workforce diversity. Research shows that there are large racial disparities in student debt, with loan burdens more often impacting students of color than their white peers. Usually in the form of grants, scholarships or forgivable loans, financial incentive programs can help ease the financial burden of teacher preparation through four-year degree programs for students of color. In Illinois, for example, the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship Program provides scholarships of up to $5,000 for students of color who are pursuing teacher licensure and meet certain criteria.
Grow-your-own programs are another policy lever employed by states to help close the diversity gap between student and teacher populations. Colorado and Washington both have grow-your-own programs that target students at either the high school or postsecondary level and encourage or incentivize students to become teachers in their own communities. Washington’s program, Recruiting Washington Teachers, aims to recruit a diverse group of future teachers through teacher academies at the high school level. Colorado H.B. 18-1309 (2018) established requirements for a grow-your-own program that targets students at the postsecondary level. Students must commit to working in the same school or district for three years after graduation in exchange for undergraduate tuition support.
States are using a range of policy levers to recruit and retain a more diverse teacher workforce. In addition to state policy, many higher education institutions and school districts have developed their own programs to diversify the educator workforce. These and other policy levers are promising efforts to recruit and retain a more diverse teacher workforce and reap the proven benefits of doing so. We will continue to track state policy action in this area as states grapple with ways to increase their educator workforce diversity.