TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Diversifying the teacher workforce: More than a foot in the door

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The benefits of a more diverse teacher workforce are clear and substantial. Many efforts to increase diversity, however, focus on getting more teachers of color to the door of the classroom, with too little attention to what comes after.

Two new studies show the folly of that approach.

One by Eugenia Hopper (Coastal Carolina University), Derrick Robinson (University of Memphis), and Paul Fitchett (UNC Charlotte) uses federal survey data to demonstrate that Black teachers were 10 percentage points more likely to leave the classroom within the first five years than the average teacher, and that attrition was highest in their fourth year, when most schools are no longer thinking about retention supports.

As some context to understand these higher attrition numbers, Black teachers are more likely to work in high-needs schools, which tend to have higher levels of turnover as a whole, although Black teachers have higher retention in these high-needs schools than is the case for white teachers.

What can help reverse this trend? Hopper and colleagues leveraged the survey data to find that administrative support was the central factor in teachers' intention to stay. Teachers were more likely to want to stay in the classroom long-term when they reported the following to be true about their own school:

  • The school administration's behavior toward the staff is supportive and encouraging.
  • The principal enforces school rules for student conduct and backs teachers up when they need it.
  • Rules for student behavior are consistently enforced by teachers in this school, even for students who are not in their classes.
  • The principal knows what kind of school he or she wants and has communicated it to the staff.
  • Staff members are recognized for a job well done.

Another retention study by Toya Jones Frank, Marvin Powell, Jenice View, Christina Lee, Jay Bradley, and Asia Williams of George Mason University focused specifically on Black mathematics teachers. This study surveyed teachers using some items from NCES' Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) along with questions about "microaggressions" experienced by Black teachers, which the study defines as "brief, subtle exchanges that send negative slights or insults to a person of color" that are "often covert in nature."

Microaggressions commonly experienced by Black teachers include their assignment to teach lower-level or remedial courses, being cast as "race experts" who must help other teachers navigate how to work with students of color, and other means of devaluing their intelligence and subject area expertise.

A survey of over 300 Black mathematics teachers found that, using the SASS measures alone, teachers' intentions to stay were most strongly correlated to their age (like most teachers, older Black teachers were more likely to plan to stay in the classroom) and salary (higher salaries were correlated with being more likely to leave). But, when factoring in the questions on microaggressions, these experiences of racism weighed much more heavily than age or salary on teachers' plans to remain in the profession.

Together, these studies suggest that keeping Black teachers in the workforce requires that administrators build more supportive environments and lead the way in identifying and eradicating microaggressions at both the organizational and the individual levels.