Although the nation’s teacher workforce is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, the student body is growing in diversity at a much faster rate. To address this issue and others, the McKay School’s Educational Leadership and Foundations Department hosted Michael Hansen, PhD, senior fellow and director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, for a seminar on BYU campus.
“Back in 1993, minorities accounted for about 10% of the student population. Now they’re over 20%, and we have every expectation that trend will continue,” said Hansen about Utah’s student body. “We do not see nearly the same level of a corresponding growth among teachers.”
This disparity between racial and ethnic minority students and teachers in the Mountain West region and in the state of Utah is a critical concern that must be brought to people’s attention. There are tremendous benefits that come to students when they are exposed to teachers of color.
“By having minority students exposed to teachers of color similar to them, those students can raise their sights," said Hansen. “Whenever teacher race and ethnicity aligns with student race and ethnicity, we see increases in student test scores, fewer absences, greater teacher expectations for students, increased gifted and talented placement, higher high school graduation and college enrollment, and lower incidence of school discipline.”
The benefits of a diverse teacher workforce extend beyond students of color. “This isn’t just something that’s valuable for students from minority backgrounds, but it’s also valuable for white students—when they have authority figures from different races and ethnicities, it is associated with higher levels of tolerance and openness,” added Hansen.
Deciding which schools to place teachers of color in is just as important as recruiting them. “If we think of teachers of color as a scarce resource that can benefit students in a unique way, then I think it’s reasonable to ask where that scarce resource does the most good,” said Hansen. “Many schools in suburban and rural areas have very few, if any, teachers of color.”
That trend in rural and suburban areas is a major reason why Utah and the Mountain West region struggle with creating a diverse teacher workforce. In Utah, only 5% of minority students are exposed to a teacher of color. When compared to the national average of 19%, it becomes clear that there is an issue in Utah.
“The places that need to take teacher diversity most seriously are the places that are predominantly white and historically have been white for a long time,” Hansen declared. “That is here in rural areas in the Mountain West.”
Despite the pressing issues, there are opportunities for change to happen right now. Hansen argued that state governments are in the best position to lead the efforts to tackle these issues. In Hansen’s opinion, the best immediate goal for the region is to catch up with the rest of the country.
“Given how poorly the Mountain West is doing on these issues, getting back to the national average would be an impressive win for the region,” said Hansen.
None of the issues surrounding teacher diversity will be resolved tomorrow. Rather, policy makers and education leaders need to engage in long-term strategies to diversify the teacher workforce at the same pace as the increasingly diverse student body.
Writer: Jake Gulisane
Contact: Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922