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Seizing the Moment for Better Representation in Schools

April 28, 2023

Increasing teacher diversity continues to be a challenge and with more and more research showing the positive impact of diverse teachers, a consensus is building about the need for change.

Education researcher Dr. Constance Lindsay shared evidence and insights at March COP convening.

3J3A4306.jpgIncreasing teacher diversity continues to be a challenge, and yet we’re living in a rare moment of opportunity, says education researcher Dr. Constance Lindsay, PhD. With more and more research showing the positive impact of diverse teachers, a consensus is building about the need for change, she said. Educators, parents, government, and other stakeholders all, for once, agree, clearing a path for policy changes and funding.

Dr. Lindsay spoke at a recent Best In Class Community of Practice convening to discuss how educators, administrators, and others in education can feed the teacher pipeline and attract more diverse teachers.

“We’re at an important point, because people are looking to invest in teacher diversity,” she noted. “You guys are doing this work at an opportune time. People understand the personal case — and the business case — for having a high-quality, diverse teacher workforce.”

Best In Class is a partnership between Educate Texas and the Commit Partnership, established in 2021 with funding from the Gates Foundation. Its goal is to ensure that students across Dallas County have access to effective and diverse educators. The High School to Teaching Model Community of Practice launched later that same year, bringing together educators, administrators, and other stakeholders to develop programming to support students on their journey to becoming teachers.

Priscilla.jpgSpeaking at the March event, Priscilla Aquino-Garza, director of programs and policy for Educate Texas, noted that there continue to be representation gaps, especially for Latinx students. But, she added, evidence shows that teachers tend to stay in the communities where they themselves were educated.

“The teachers you want in your districts are in your classrooms today,” she said. “ that’s where we need to be growing the energy and the excitement.”
Documenting the Impact of Diversity

Dr. Lindsay is a faculty member of the University of North Carolina School of Education. Her research focuses on teacher diversity and closing racial achievement gaps in education. She is the co-author of Teacher Diversity and Student Success: Why Racial Representation Matters in the Classroom, published in 2021 by Harvard Education Press.

She noted that representation gaps between students and teachers of color persist at both the national and local levels, but the largest gaps are for Latinx students and teachers. Data from the Texas Educational Research Center shows the rapid growth of Hispanic students in Texas schools over time, highlighting the importance of keeping up with the needs of our students, she said.

An abundance of data shows the benefits of teacher representation. Studies have shown that students of color who are taught by teachers of color have better test scores, fewer disciplinary actions, are less likely to drop out of school, and more likely to attend college. Lindsay noted that many past studies looked at impacts specifically on Black students, but recent research in Texas showed similar results for Latinx groups.

“For Hispanic and Latinx students, when they had a Latinx teacher, or when shares of Hispanic teachers go up in their school, they have higher reading and math scores” as well as other positive outcomes, she said.
The Teacher Pipeline

Dr. Lindsay’s research also offers insights into how to open the teacher pipeline and better serve diverse students both in the short term and into the future.

Looking at barriers to people becoming teachers, one study found that African American and Latino students rely on loans to access college, but that when those loans passed a certain threshold, the debt burden made them less likely to enter public service. “That’s an easy-peasy policy solution,” she said.

She also identified short-term ways to reduce disparities in schools with ongoing representation gaps.

One study looked at schools where students of color were being disproportionately suspended. She found that giving teachers an empathic mindset intervention -- a short, online exercise that asked them to connect with students on a personal level -- reduced racial disparities in suspensions. And the benefits carried over into the following school year, even for teachers who received the training only once.

Dr-Lindsay-(1).jpg“A short, cheap intervention, online, could produce these results,” she said. “This kind of work is important, because we have to think about diversifying the workforce as we move forward, but we also have to work with the folks we have now.” She stressed that diversifying the workforce is an important step, but that it remains important to develop the current workforce in service to students now.
Hiring, Staffing, and Compensating Diverse Experiences

While acknowledging that it can be a controversial opinion, Lindsay argued that diversity should be considered alongside other attributes when measuring teacher quality and making hiring decisions.

“That’s not to say that every time you will hire the candidate of color,” she said, “but that you have a strong pool to draw from, and that those skills are valued.”

While hiring catches up with the need for diverse teachers, schools can be strategic about how they assign the teachers of color they already have, she added.
Administrators can lean on existing research to guide staffing decisions and assign teachers where they will have the greatest impact -- and avoid perpetuating harm. This could include assigning more Black, male teachers to elementary classrooms, for example, rather than funneling them into traditional roles as disciplinarians.

In a Q&A, she was asked how Black teachers could be compensated for their cultural knowledge in the same way Spanish speakers may be compensated for their language skills. Having experience with AAVE (African American Vernacular English), for example, can be just as important in helping Black teachers connect with students from their communities, audience members noted.
Lindsay pointed to a school district in Colorado that had negotiated a compensation package that rewarded teachers for different qualifications and types of experience. A similar system could include compensation levels for different cultural competencies, she suggested.

“I think that would be very attractive for some teachers,” she said. 

Room for Nuance

Lindsay acknowledged that, while more and more research supports the importance of diverse teachers, nuance exists at the classroom level. Other factors like economic and cultural differences can play a role, even when students and teachers are the same race.

“It’s not like just having Black and brown teachers closes the gaps. It lessens the gaps. It mitigates the gaps,” she said. “There’s still work to be done in terms of minds and how we think about students.”
Educate Texas will continue to work with K-12 and higher education partners to close gaps for students across Texas, especially for Black and Hispanic students, as well as students living in poverty. 

Photos by: Kim Leeson