By Makiah Lyons • Knowledge is Power • May 17, 2023 •
Today marks the 69th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, celebrated as one of the most impactful Supreme Court decisions in U.S. history. Brown’s 1954 ruling overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” doctrine and prohibited school segregation based on race. Today, however, many school systems around the country are still racially and socioeconomically segregated, as we continue to grapple with how best to make good on Brown’s promise.
One of the under-considered but relevant implications of the Brown case is its impact on the teaching profession. While Brown sought to desegregate many student populations, it did not seek integration of teachers, administrators or school staff. Today, teachers are even more segregated than their students.
As Black students were integrated into historically white schools, many schools that served Black students during segregation were shuttered. Many of the Black educators who staffed those schools were shut out of the profession. Across 11 southern states, that 90% of Black principals were fired, laid off or demoted.
In 1954, the year that Brown was decided, 82,000 Black teachers were teaching 2 million Black children across the nation. As a result of integration implementation, over 38,000 Black teachers lost their jobs. This drastic shift in the U.S. education system is considered the largest “brain drain” of professionals in the history of the public school system, the effects of which remain apparent today.
Teachers of color account for less than 20% of the teaching workforce, while more than half of public school students are of color. In 2011, a report estimated that 40% of public schools did not employ a single teacher of color.
There are several compounding factors that help make sense of a gap so large. Students of color who aspire to become teachers are less likely to enroll in teacher preparation programs and, of those, are less likely to finish the program due to lack of college preparedness, financial burden, family responsibility, and the lack of diverse and supportive faculties and programs.
Teachers who enter the field with insufficient preparation are two to three times more likely to leave their schools than teachers who were adequately prepared. Teachers of color also are more likely to be placed in under-resourced schools serving students from low-income families and students of color who experience high-teacher turnover. Hiring biases also contribute to the racial gap in the teaching workforce.
Across the board, teaching quality is the most important school-related factor that influences student achievement, and this is especially true for Black and Latino students and students from underserved backgrounds. Teaching quality means more than having teachers who are knowledgeable and effective. It also means having diverse teachers, school staff and administrators.
Teacher diversity encourages deeper engagement for Black and Latino students. Black and Latino students who are taught by a teacher of their same racial identity experience better school attendance, fewer suspensions and higher attendance rates. A 2021 study found that Latino teachers who were bilingual and used culturally responsive practices were more effective in teaching Latino students. A 2022 study found that Black students who have access to Black teachers were more resilient, better at regulating their emotions and behaviors, and experienced fewer absences.
And while the benefits of teacher diversity are particularly pronounced for students of color, studies show that all students benefit from greater teacher diversity. Teachers of color are more likely to use culturally responsive teaching practices and values like viewing intelligence as malleable instead of fixed, building relationships with students and their communities, and investing more time in tailoring their instruction to fit the needs of individual students. These techniques yield academic improvement and emotional development in students of all races.
As public school student bodies continue to diversify, so too must the teaching profession. A real investment in recruiting, training and retaining diverse teachers is necessary to ensure that all students have access to quality, effective teachers and instruction in inclusive environments.
See IDRA’s free Diversifying the Teaching Field – Online Technical Assistance Toolkit includes four videos, literature review documents, a diversity gap map and other resources.
[© 2023, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 17, 2023, edition of Knowledge is Power by IDRA. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]