While state leaders have prioritized teacher diversity in public schools, the gap between the number of diverse teachers has not kept up with the number of diverse students in the districts they serve, according to a study released by Education Reform Now (ERN), a nonpartisan and nonprofit education advocacy group.
The issue is one that needs attention now, advocates say, as having access to teachers of color is proven to lead to better academic, mental and behavioral outcomes for students later.
ERN’s report cites a 2021 study from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University that found both white students and students of color benefit from having a diverse teaching staff work with them.
“In Connecticut, there has been a growing consensus that access to diverse teaching populations is a powerful policy lever for supporting students’ academic experiences. Students of color specifically deserve to see role models who look like and understand them,” according to the report. “But regardless of a student’s race, access to teachers of color is associated with positive outcomes.”
Findings like this, according to Amy Dowell, Connecticut state director of ERN, means that state leaders need to immediately act on ways to address the issue.
“If we know it works, it is something that the state is really obligated to invest in,” Dowell said.
While Connecticut has moved forward with a variety of efforts to recruit and retain minority teachers over the years – Dowell said what legislators need to do is establish a master plan with concrete items they can pursue.
Because right now, the numbers are not going in the right direction, she said.
The percentage of non-white students has grown from 40.6% to 51.4% between the 2012-13 and 2021-2022 school years. Meanwhile, the population for teachers of color only grew 2.5 percentage points, from 8.1% to 10.6% , according to the report.
“When you are looking at the teaching population as a whole, it just doesn’t reflect the student body,” Dowell said.
In addition to the growing diversity gap, the study found that the gap is bigger in the districts with diverse student populations. “Students there often lack the opportunity to learn from teachers who look like them,” the report states.
East Hartford has a difference of 73.7 percentage points between the percentages of students and teachers of color, according to the report. Nearly 93% of Hartford’s public school students were students of color in the 2021-22 school year, while nearly 28% of the teaching staff were people of color. In Waterbury, 87% of students were people of color compared to only 16% of the teachers.
But despite the discouraging numbers, there are positive things going on, according to Deputy State Director Nicki Golos.
ERN highlights the Manchester school district as an example of a place where the teacher population has become more diverse along with the student population, narrowing the diversity gap. There has been a nearly 2% decrease in the gap since the beginning of the pandemic in the 2019-20 school year, according to the report.
In terms of recruitment, Manchester wants to have 40% of new hires represent the diversity of the student body, and a 2.5% annual increase in the percentage of teachers of color. Other recruitment goals include: reimbursement of tuition costs for those pursuing alternative routes to certification, reimbursing certified staff who gain endorsements in specific shortage areas, and recruitment from other states.
“We really love what they are doing,” Golos said, adding Manchester works to provide a culturally affirming environment where new teachers feel welcome. The district also works to retain teachers of color by enabling them to feel free to share their experiences, as well as providing all staff with anti-racism training, Golos said.
Manchester Superintendent Matt Geary is quoted in the report as saying that “recruitment and retention of diverse staff members needs to be perceived as embedded in everyday life at the workplace. We must all collectively create an inclusive workplace with a positive culture through personal and interpersonal growth and development related to race and culture.”
Another, immediate way Connecticut can help attract a diverse population of teachers is to help with the issue of student loans, Dowell said. She added the state should take notes from Manchester and other districts that are seeing some success in addressing the diversity gap, like Amistad Academy, Achievement First Hartford Academy, Norwich and Windsor.
The report did not reveal too many surprises, Golos said, but the information it provides can help move the needle in the right direction.
“It was really important to capture the data about where there are holes in the pipeline so we can solve the problems,” she said.