The teacher shortage continues to be one of the top issues facing our education system. The teacher shortage is most significant for teachers of color as K-12’s workforce remains majority white, in opposition to its increasingly diverse student body. As different solutions and policies are offered to address the teacher shortage, we must ensure that efforts to improve the teacher shortage include strategies and programs proven to create a more diverse teacher workforce.

Research shows that a more diverse teacher workforce benefits all students and helps students of color feel like they belong. School districts continue to struggle to recruit and retain teachers of color, even if they are aware of the problem. By employing evidence-based strategies to create a more diverse teacher workforce and expanding and increasing already existing effective programs, schools can improve their efforts to recruit and retain teachers of color.

Sources: 4 Changes Schools Can Make to Recruit Teachers of Color and Keep Them Around

The problem

The teacher workforce is not racially representative of the students they serve. In the 2015-2016 school year, over 80% of teachers were white, and less than 7% were Black. Meanwhile, the white student population has steadily declined since 2000, from 61% of students to 47% in the fall of 2018. In that same period, 15% of students enrolled in public schools were Black, 27% were Hispanic, and 5% were Asian.

There are several reasons why school districts have struggled to recruit teachers of color. These reasons include flawed hiring practices, racially-biased workplace environments, and a lack of sustained diversity efforts.

School districts also struggle to retain teachers of color. Often this is because teachers of color feel isolated in their school when there aren’t other teachers or leadership in the building that look like them.

Sources: Racial/Ethnic Enrollment in Public Schools, 9 Strategies for Recruiting, Hiring, and Retaining Diverse Teachers, Recruiting and Retaining Teachers of Color: Why It Matters, Ways to Do It, 4 Changes Schools Can Make to Recruit Teachers of Color and Keep Them Around

Benefits of a diverse teacher workforce

All students benefit from a diverse teacher workforce. A diverse workforce exposes students to multiple perspectives, increases their sense of civic engagement, and helps them improve their problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Evidence shows that, when taught by teachers of color, students of color perform better academically, their graduation rates improve, and they are more likely to attend college. Furthermore, when students of color are paired with a teacher of the same race/ethnicity, they are less likely to experience exclusionary discipline. Research shows that Black teachers are less likely than non-Black teachers to perceive Black students’ behaviors as disruptive.

A more diverse teacher workforce also has an important impact on the school system. Schools and districts with a diverse workforce and leadership are associated with smaller gaps in student test scores and increased parent engagement among communities of color.

Sources: Prioritize educator diversity to address racial injustices, Recruiting and Retaining Teachers of Color: Why It Matters, Ways to Do It, 9 Strategies for Recruiting, Hiring, and Retaining Diverse Teachers

Evidence-based strategies to create a more diverse teacher workforce

There are numerous evidence-based strategies for districts and schools to utilize to increase the recruitment and retention of teachers of color. Strategies include:

  1. Build relationships between districts and teacher preparation programs with diverse student enrollment. For example, alternative teacher preparation programs tend to have a more diverse enrollment than traditional ones.
  2. Reform the hiring process:
    • Address implicit bias in the hiring process and among school staff. Train all staff members, especially those involved in hiring, to recognize implicit bias.
    • Use multiple measures, including performance-based tasks, to evaluate teacher candidates. Only using teachers’ test scores, education, and experience may function as gatekeepers for teachers of color and are not always the best indicators of a candidate’s performance in the classroom.
  3. To improve retention, design and implement high-quality professional learning opportunities for teachers of color. This includes collaborative work with other educators, support groups, and mentoring provided by trained and qualified colleagues, particularly other teachers of color.
  4. Establish teacher residency programs. Aspiring teachers of color are more likely than future white teachers to amass student loan debt, which can stop them from pursuing a teaching career. Districts can start their teacher residency programs or partner with local universities that allow teacher candidates to work in the school as they complete their teaching certification. These programs may cover the full or partial cost of becoming a teacher.
  5. Provide targeted support for teachers of color. Teachers of color often face questions about their teaching style, are undermined or ignored when they have suggestions about improving the school, are overlooked for leadership positions, and face criticism for efforts to include race and ethnicity in their curriculum. Establishing affinity groups for teachers of color allows for a safe space to share their experiences and focus on their wellbeing.

Sources: 9 Strategies for Recruiting, Hiring, and Retaining Diverse Teachers, 4 Changes Schools Can Make to Recruit Teachers of Color and Keep Them Around


There are several examples of programs and initiatives that effectively increase the recruitment and retention of teachers of color:

  1. Boston Public Schools Teacher Cadet Program
    • This program begins the teacher pipeline early by attracting high school students to the teaching profession. The program does so through practical aspects like coordinating college visits and summer internships. The program also provides a space for the participants to exchange dialogue with teachers who look like them, something many teachers of color say is missing from their professional experiences.
  2. Grow Your Own programs
    • Grow Your Own programs recruit future teachers of color amongst current K-12 school employees. Often, non-teacher school staff are much more racially and linguistically diverse than the teaching staff and come from within the community.
    • One example of a Grow Your Own program is the University of Minnesota’s Grow Your Own Teachers Program. It is a 2-year graduate-level teacher preparation program that enrolls non-licensed school staff with bachelor’s degrees. The students earn a master’s degree in education and qualify for a state teaching license. The program offers reduced tuition.
  3. Building Our Network of Diversity (BOND) Project
    • The BOND Project addresses the isolation many teachers of color feel when there aren’t other teachers in the building who look like them. The BOND Project is in Montgomery County, Maryland, and it provides professional enrichment, mentoring, scholarships, and fellowship activities for male educators of color.
  4. Boston Public Schools (BPS) Male Educators of Color Executive Coaching Leadership Program
    • The BPS Male Educators of Color Program is a nine-month program that aims to enhance engagement, retention, and leadership for male educators of color within the school system. The program is led by current and former male leaders of color from BPS and combines executive coaching and research-based content that promotes self-reflection and peer interactions.

Sources: Recruiting and Retaining Teachers of Color: Why It Matters, Ways to Do It

Statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics make the lack of teacher diversity in our education system clear. Schools and districts continue to struggle to recruit and retain teachers of color, and as a result, students of color have and see few teachers who look like them. All students, particularly students of color, lose when they don’t attend schools with a diverse teacher workforce. It is vital that we apply evidence-based strategies, some of which are detailed above, and continue to expand and develop programs that work to recruit and retain a more diverse teacher workforce.

The data and information in this blog were drawn from various studies and articles from the National Center for Education Statistics, the Institute of Education Sciences, the Brookings Institute, and Education Week.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages.