by Desiree Carver-Thomas and Kristin Grayson, Ph.D., IDRA Newsletter, April 2017

Schools nationwide are struggling to hire a teacher workforce that reflects the racial diversity of their communities, an endeavor made even more difficult by the national teacher shortage (Sutcher, et al., 2016). However, recruiting and retaining a diverse teacher workforce that includes teachers of color is crucial. A more robust pipeline of teachers of color can help stem shortages in hard-to-staff schools (Simon & Johnson, 2015).

The IDRA EAC-South is currently assisting several districts (both those under federal desegregation orders and others who have self-identified the need to diversify their staff) in addressing these issues by helping districts use research-based solutions to recruit, hire and retain teachers of color. IDRA EAC-South is ready to assist other districts and does not operate as an enforcement agency.

Why We Need More Teachers of Color

Research shows that teachers of color tend to have higher expectations of students of color and are associated with better student achievement, lower absenteeism and fewer suspensions for students of color (Albert Shanker Institute, 2015; Holt & Gershenson, 2015). They also are important role models for all students (U.S. Department of Education, 2016).

Students seeing and building relationships with teachers of color can help break down stereotypes and engender positive attitudes across racial differences. Finally, having a diverse faculty in schools brings cultural knowledge and capital that teachers can share with each other as they design programming and curricula.

Teachers of Color in the Workforce

Although the number of teachers of color doubled between 1988 and 2012, the high rate of teacher turnover – teachers moving between schools and leaving the profession – impedes the growth of the share of teachers of color in the workforce. As student diversity in the nation’s public schools continues to multiply, faculty diversity has not kept pace.

In 2012-13, students of color made up over half of all students, while teachers of color comprised less than 20 percent of the teaching workforce. The limited pool of teachers of color hinders the ability of all districts to increase faculty diversity.

In 2012-13, the turnover rate for teachers of color was 26 percent greater than it was for White teachers. The problem is not just a loss of teachers of color; turnover also destabilizes schools and undermines student achievement (Ronfeldt, et al., 2011). Any number of factors can decrease the number of teachers of color in schools.

However, the majority of teachers of color leave schools or teaching altogether because of poor working conditions (Sutcher, et al., 2016). Three in four teachers of color teach in schools with the most students of color, which tend to be disproportionately impacted by accountability sanctions, poor administrative support and a lack of resources. Additionally, a recent study finds that turnover of teachers of color is strongly related to having influence on school decision-making and autonomy in the classroom (Ingersoll & May, 2016). Following are three strategies for recruitment and retention.

Strategy: Improve Teacher Preparation in High-Retention Preparation Pathways through Cost Subsidies

Teachers of color likely enter the profession with less training than other teachers due to the cost of attending high-quality teacher preparation programs offered at colleges and universities, including the cost of not working full-time while a student.

Research shows college students of color and from low-income households perceive student loans as a greater burden than other students do, suggesting that high-retention pathways that reduce the debt burden of preparation can bring more students of color into high-quality teacher preparation programs (Podolsky & Kini, 2016).

Service scholarships and loan forgiveness programs, when well-designed to cover tuition and living expenses, can be effective tools for recruiting teacher candidates into high-quality preparation programs and retaining them in the profession. Candidates commit to teach for a specified period in high-need schools or fields, such as special education, mathematics, science, and bilingual education. In exchange, their educational costs are covered or reimbursed. Several states have successfully implemented these programs.

Another high-retention pathway is teacher residencies, which involve yearlong apprenticeships with master teachers in high-need urban or rural schools (Guha, et al., 2016). Districts and universities partner to provide clinical experiences directly related to coursework that leads to master’s degrees in education. Residents receive financial support and, in exchange, commit to teach with ongoing mentorship in a high-need school in the district for three to four years after their residency.

Nationally, residents are more racially diverse (49 percent are people of color), have higher district retention rates and yield better student achievement than novice teachers entering the field through traditional pathways (Guha, et al., 2016). Many districts have developed residency programs by leveraging federal or state funding.

Grow your own preparation models can support high school students and other community members to pursue teaching degrees and teach in their own communities, helping to build the pipeline of well-prepared teachers in hard-to-staff urban and rural schools (Podolsky, et al., 2016).

For example, the Pathways to Teaching Careers Program provided scholarships and other supports for paraprofessionals and other noncertified school personnel to become teachers. An evaluation of the program found that 74 percent of paraprofessionals recruited into the program were people of color and 91 percent of paraprofessionals went on to teach in high-need schools.

Strategy: Increase Recruitment through Strategic Hiring Practices

School districts can better recruit teachers of color by adjusting hiring policies and practices (Podolsky, et al., 2016). Districts can shift the hiring timeline earlier to allow greater time to undertake targeted recruitment to fill vacancies. In some districts, for example, teachers must submit their requests for school reassignment by early spring, or they receive a small stipend for submitting their intent to resign or retire by then.

With more time, hiring staff can do more than post openings online. Staff can attend career fairs and visit preparation programs at nearby colleges, including minority servings institutions (historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic serving institutions). School districts can work with those programs to streamline applications and recruit well-qualified candidates. Including current teachers of color in the hiring process and compensating them for their time, can also help recruit teachers of color (Simon, 2015).

Strategy: Support Improved Working Conditions

Poor working conditions contribute significantly to the high turnover rates of teachers of color, and principals play a key role in shaping those conditions. Unfortunately, not all school leadership programs adequately prepare principals for competency in all the roles in which they serve: instructional leader, data analyst, operations manager, and so on. The principal and the leadership team are essential for fostering a positive climate that includes a safe and healthy learning environment, school staff who model respect and communication, and well-defined high expectations for both teachers and students.

Principals also can support teachers in need of professional growth through comprehensive professional development and cultural competency training (Johnson, 2016). Excellent principal preparation programs train future leaders to support positive teaching and learning environments. Various state and federal funds may be allocated to support principal preparation.

Other ways to improve working conditions include giving new teachers more mentoring and support along with reduced class sizes and access to essential resources. Teachers benefit from active parent engagement in schools, ongoing development opportunities, and professional learning communities. Additionally, teacher compensation should allow teachers to enhance their salaries with additional teaching years of experience and relevant educational advances.

Faculty diversity is an asset that promotes a dynamic, inclusive learning environment for all students. For more information about how the IDRA EAC-South can support your school or district technical assistance, please contact us at


Albert Shanker Institute. (2015). The State of Diversity in American Education (Washington, D.C.: Albert Shanker Institute).

Black, H. (2016). “New Indiana Scholarship Tackles Teacher Shortages by Offering Students Tuition Help,” WSBT CBS 22 (Mishawaka, Ind.).

Guha, R., Hyler, M.E., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2016). The Teacher Residency: An Innovative Model for Preparing Teachers (Palo Alto, Calif.: Learning Policy Institute).

Holt, S.B., & Gershenson, S. (2015). The Impact of Demographic Teacher Representation on Student Attendance and Suspensions, IZA Discussion Paper No. 9554 (Rochester, N.Y.: Social Science Research Network).

Ingersoll, R.M., & May, H. (2016). Minority Teacher Recruitment, Employment, and Retention: 1987 to 2013 (Palo Alto, Calif.: Learning Policy Institute).

Johnson, P. (August 2016). “Fostering Culturally Diverse Learning Environments,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).

Podolsky, A., & Kini, T. (2016). How Effective Are Loan Forgiveness and Service Scholarships for Recruiting Teachers? (Palo Alto, Calif.: Learning Policy Institute).

Podolsky, A., Kini, T., Bishop, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2016). Solving the Teacher Shortage: How to Attract and Retain Excellent Educators (Palo Alto, Calif.: Learning Policy Institute).

Rizga, K. (2017). “Black Teachers Matter,” Mother Jones.

Ronfeldt, M., Lankford, H., Loeb, S. & Wyckoff, J. (2011, June). “How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement,” NBER Working Paper No. 17176 (Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research).

Simon, N.S. (2015). “Recruiting and Hiring Teachers in Six Successful, High-Poverty, Urban Schools,” Doctoral dissertation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Graduate School of Education).

Simon, N.S., & Johnson, S.M. (2015). “Teacher Turnover in High-Poverty Schools: What We Know and Can Do,” Teachers College Record, Volume 117 Number 3, p. 1-36.

Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2015). A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. (Palo Alto, Calif.: Learning Policy Institute).

Sutcher, L., Podolsky, A., & Espinoza, D. (2017). Supporting Principals’ Learning: Key Features of Effective Programs (Palo Alto, Calif.: Learning Policy Institute).

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Texas Teacher Residency Program, website (2016).

U.S. Department of Education. (2016, July). The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce (Washington, D.C.: Policy and Program Studies Service Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development).

Desiree Carver-Thomas is a research and policy associate at the Learning Policy Institute. Comments may be directed to her at Kristin Grayson, Ph.D., is an IDRA education associate. Comments may be directed to her at

[©2017, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2017 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. 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.]