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Study: One-Fifth of States Fail to Either Collect or Publicize Racial Data on Teachers, Despite Yawning Diversity Gap

By Taylor Swaak | October 9, 2018

This is the latest article in The 74’s ongoing ‘Big Picture’ series, bringing American education into sharper focus through new research and data. Go Deeper: See our full series.

As the country grapples with a teacher workforce that looks less and less like its students, a new report has found roughly 1 in 5 states are failing to either collect teacher diversity data or make it publicly available.

A September report from the Albert Shanker Institute revealed that six states — Alabama, Delaware, Maine, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia — do not collect any district- or school-level data on K-12 public schoolteachers’ race and ethnicity. The remaining 44 states and D.C. are a spread: 21 post their school- or district-level data online; others require requests before providing the data, charge fees to disclose the information, or keep it private.

The report is “shining a light on where [data collection] is happening and giving credit where credit is due,” said Matthew Di Carlo, a senior research fellow at the institute who co-authored the report with former fellow Klarissa Cervantes. “But it’s [also] to certainly shine a light on states where it’s not happening, and to try and push them along to doing the right thing.”

The current racial diversity gap between U.S. students and educators is yawning. About 80 percent of teachers are white, and the vast majority are women. Meanwhile, as of the 2014-15 school year, the majority of students were minorities, according to National Center for Education Statistics predictions. While every state except Mississippi and Washington, D.C., saw their white student populations decline between 2003-04 and 2013-14, the black student population remained relatively stable. The Hispanic population jumped nearly 6 percent.

The gap, often caused by factors such as hiring bias and lower retention rates, looms as most research shows that minority students — notably black students — perform better academically when paired with a same-race teacher. (There are currently not enough data to discern the effects of same-race teachers on Hispanic students.)

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One study, for example, found that having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade lowered black students’ dropout rate by nearly a third. Research also indicates black teachers are less likely to suspend or expel black students, and have higher expectations of them than white educators.

An integral part of narrowing this teacher diversity gap is tracking granular, school-level data, Di Carlo said. This is because the scope of the problem “can vary a great deal” from school to school.

Especially with larger districts, “if you’re hiring teachers and you need to diversify your teacher workforce, you want to be putting those teachers — if you can — where they could improve the diversity” of certain schools, he said.

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Publicizing the data can also help parents make informed decisions about where to send their kids, he added. Seventeen states offer school-level teacher diversity data via their state education agency websites, while 18 of them (including D.C.) make the data available by request. Three states — Kansas, Mississippi, and South Dakota — charge a fee.

Parents might “think it’s important to have a diverse teaching force, and might choose schools or districts [for their kids] based on that,” Di Carlo said.

On top of urging all states to provide public, school- and district-level data, the report called on the federal Office for Civil Rights to incorporate teacher diversity reporting into its Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The CRDC already mandates that states submit school- and district-level data on teachers’ certifications and years of experience.

“The purpose of the Civil Rights Data Collection is to provide data relevant to providing equal educational opportunity to students,” the report read. “… Central, nationwide collection and promulgation of [teacher diversity] data is the best way to ensure comprehensive availability to the public.”

An OCR spokesman reached by The 74 did not provide comment.

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