The Minority Teacher Shortage: Fact or Fable?

Article excerpt

For several decades, shortages of minority teachers have been a big issue for the nation's schools. Policy makers and recent presidents have agreed that our elementary and secondary teaching force "should look like America." But the conventional wisdom is that as the nation's population and students have grown more diverse, the teaching force has done the opposite--grown more white and less diverse. The result, we are told, is that minority students in the nation's schools increasingly lack minority adult role models, contact with teachers who understand their racial and cultural background, and often qualified teachers of any background, because white teachers eschew schools with large percentages of minorities. The minority teacher shortage in turn, we are told, is a major reason for the minority achievement gap and, ultimately, unequal occupational and life outcomes for disadvantaged students. In short, the minority teacher shortage is a civil rights issue.

The main source of this shortage, conventional wisdom holds, is a problem with the teacher supply pipeline. Too few minority students enter and complete college, and those who do have an increasing number of career and employment options aside from teaching. Moreover, when minority candidates do seek to enter teaching, this view holds, they encounter barriers--in particular, teaching entry tests, on which minority candidates have lower pass rates. The result is the minority teacher shortage.

The prescription, understandably enough, has been to try to recruit more minority candidates into teaching. In recent decades, numerous government and nongovernment organizations have tried a variety of minority teacher recruitment programs and initiatives, including future educator programs in high schools, partnerships between community colleges and four-year teacher education programs, career ladders for paraprofessionals in schools, and alternative teacher certification programs. Support for these efforts has been substantial. For instance, beginning in the late 1980s, the Ford Foundation, along with the DeWitt Wallace Readers' Digest Fund, committed over $60 million to minority teacher recruitment and preparation programs. Many of these initiatives have been designed to bring minority teachers into schools serving predominantly minority student populations, often in low-income, urban school districts. Some of these initiatives have been designed specifically to recruit male minority teachers, who are often considered to be in the shortest supply. Today, over half the states have some sort of minority teacher recruitment policies or programs in place. Have these efforts been successful? Has the teaching force grown more diverse? And, if not, why not?

A couple of years ago, with support from the Flora Family Foundation, we set out to answer these questions. We analyzed two decades worth of data from the late 1980s to 2009 from a large U.S. Department of Education national survey of teachers and administrators. We didn't focus on the contentious question of whether minority teachers are better at teaching minority students. Rather, our objective was to use the best national data available to ground the debate over the extent of shortages. We asked:

* Have the numbers of minority teachers been going up or down? What changes have there been, if any, in the numbers of minority students and numbers of minority teachers in the school system, and how does this compare with white students and teachers?

* Where are minority teachers employed? Are minority teachers more likely than white teachers to be employed in schools serving high-poverty, urban, and high-minority student populations?

* How does minority teacher retention compare to that of white teachers, and has it been going up or down?

We were surprised by what we found. From the viewpoint of the minority teacher shortage and of the efforts to address it, there is both good news and bad news. …