In recent years, debate surrounding educational reform has been focused on the need for educational leaders to recruit and to retain culturally competent teachers of diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds in U.S. public schools (National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force, 2004; Villegas & Irvine, 2010). Reported in the 2011-2012 Schools Staffing Survey was that of the 3,385,200 teachers employed in U.S. public schools, the teacher workforce was predominantly White (82%), compared to much smaller percentages of Hispanic (8%) and Black (7%) teachers (Goldring, Gray, & Bitterman, 2013). In contrast, the student population in U.S. public schools has become increasingly more diverse. Students of underrepresented groups comprise 40.7% of the student population in U.S. public schools (Boser, 2011; Goldring et al., 2013). This trend is an indication that teachers of diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds are in critical shortage in U.S. public schools and essential for providing students with multiple ethnic/racial, gender, cultural, and linguistic perspectives that may positively influence the organizational behavior within the school setting (Bireda & Chait, 2011; Dilworth & Coleman, 2014). As such, it is essential that educational leaders address this critical shortage with respect to teacher diversity.
In an effort to address the cultural disparities that exist between teachers and their students in U.S. public schools, the United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, initiated the National Teacher Recruitment campaign (U.S. Department of Education, 2010; Villegas & Irvine, 2010). Secretary Duncan expressed his concern for the lack of ethnic/racial and gender diversity in the teacher workforce by stating the following:
I’m very concerned that increasingly, our teachers don’t reflect the great diversity of our nation’s young people, and so making sure we have more teachers of color and particularly more men, more Black and Latino men, coming into education is going to be a significant part of this Teach campaign. (Bireda & Chait, 2011, p. 1)
Secretary Duncan’s National Teacher Recruitment campaign has brought national attention regarding the growing need for a more diverse teacher workforce. Accordingly, educational leaders need to be responsive to the need for a more diverse teacher workforce.
Bireda and Chait (2011) discussed that the lack of a diverse teacher workforce in U.S. public schools is concerning for several reasons. First, the inability of school districts to recruit and retain a highly qualified diverse teaching staff may contribute to increased turnover among ethnic/racial and gender diverse teachers (Ingersoll & May, 2011a). Second, the lack of diverse teacher backgrounds in U.S. public schools may indicate that fewer ethnically/racially and gender diverse teachers are choosing teaching as a profession (Ahmad & Boser, 2014; Bireda & Chait, 2011). Lastly, fewer ethnic/racial teacher backgrounds represented in the teacher workforce may also be indicative of fewer ethnically/racially and gender diverse teacher candidates with the necessary skills and qualifications upon exiting teacher preparation programs (Angrist & Guryan, 2008; Bireda & Chait, 2011; Khan & Slate, 2014). Therefore, the existing literature was reviewed based on its relevance to (a) the reasons for more teacher diversity in U.S. public schools and (b) the reasons for low numbers of teachers of diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds at all school levels in U.S. public schools. A discussion of each argument is presented in this investigation.
Reasons for More Teacher Diversity in the U.S. Public Schools
The need for teacher diversity has long been espoused and continues to be the focus of current school reform initiatives. Over the past two decades, state and local education agencies across the country have implemented recruitment and retention measures to increase the number of teacher ethnic/racial and gender backgrounds into the teaching profession. Numerous researchers (e.g., Ahmad & Boser, 2014; Bireda & Chait, 2011; Bone & Slate, 2012; Partee, 2014; Villegas & Irvine, 2010) contend that diversifying the teacher workforce would provide students with the diverse role models and culturally responsive teachers to enhance students’ learning environment.
Changing Demographics of Students Enrolled in U.S. Public Schools
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that from 2001 to 2011 Hispanic student enrollment in U.S. public schools increased from 17% to 24% and Black student enrollment decreased slightly from 17% to 16% (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2014c). In contrast, White student enrollment in U.S. public schools decreased from 60% to 52% during this same time period. Furthermore, White student enrollment is projected to decline to 45% between fall 2012 and fall 2023 (NCES, 2014c). The percentage of White student enrollment will continue to decrease as the percentages of Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islanders student enrollment in U.S. public schools increase (NCES, 2014c). In the latest report by the U.S. Census Bureau (2013), 49.9% of children under the age of 5 were from an underrepresented group. Thomas Mesenbourg, acting director of the Census Bureau, stated that the population of children under the age of 5 is close to becoming majority-minority in a couple of years (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). As such, the student demographics in U.S. public schools will be influenced by this trend.
Asians and Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic/racial group in the nation. This increase in Asian and Hispanic population translates to an increase in the overall student population. By 2023, the share of Hispanic student enrollment is projected to be 30% of the total student enrollment in U.S. public schools (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). During this same time period, the share of Asian/Pacific Islander student enrollment is projected to be 5% of the total student enrollment in U.S. public schools (NCES, 2014c; U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Despite the changing student demographics in U.S. public schools, the teacher workforce remains overwhelmingly White (82%) and female (Cushman, 2005; Knight & Moore, 2012; Montecinos & Nielsen, 2004). With an increase in a diverse student population, researchers (Ahmad & Boser, 2014; Bone & Slate, 2012; Cloudt & Stevens, 2009; Fergus, Sciurba, Martin, & Noguera, 2009; Quiocho & Rios, 2000) contend that the diversity in the teacher workforce has not kept up with the changing student demographics in U.S. public schools.
Similar to the national trend, the teacher workforce in majority-minority states (i.e., Hawaii, the District of Columbia, California, New Mexico, and Texas) continues to be at a disproportionate level compared to the diverse student population (Boser, 2011). In Texas, the teacher workforce has remained predominantly White (63.51%), with the remainder of the Texas teacher workforce being 24.32% Hispanic, 24.32%, Black, 9.19%, and Asian, 1.32% (Texas Education Agency [TEA], 2013a). In contrast, Hispanic students (51.3%) are the largest ethnic/racial group represented in the student population. Black students account for 12.7% of the total enrollment in Texas public schools (TEA, 2013b). This demographic shift is influenced by an increase in foreign immigration rates and an increase in birth rates (Combs, 2008). Furthermore, approximately 17% of the total student population in Texas is comprised of English Language Learners (TEA, 2012). Because of the increase in Hispanic student enrollment and percentage of English Language Learners, the Texas education system is faced with the challenge of providing an equitable education for its students (Golsan, 2013).
In California, 72% of the student population was from an underrepresented group (e.g, Hispanic). In contrast, 29% of the teacher workforce was from an underrepresented group (Boser, 2011; U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Despite California being a majority-minority state, large disparities exist between student demographics and teacher demographics in public schools. These alarming trends are concerning as Hispanic students are less likely than White students to enroll in a 4-year college (56% compared to 72%), less likely to be enrolled as a full- time student, and less likely to obtain an academic degree (Fry & Taylor, 2013). Therefore, at a national and state level, school leaders face the challenge of providing an equitable education for all students that meets the educational needs of an increasingly more diverse group of learners (Bone, 2011; Milner, 2006; Villegas & Irvine, 2010). The literature examined on changing student demographics on U.S. public schools is briefly summarized in Table 1.
Teachers of Diverse Backgrounds Serve as Role Models to Students with Similar Backgrounds
According to researchers (Dee, 2004; L. S. Johnson, 2008; Ochoa, 2007), students of diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds who are taught by teachers of diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds are provided with numerous educational benefits. For example, teachers of diverse backgrounds serve as role models for all students, are culturally responsive to the diverse needs of their students, help students of diverse backgrounds to have a sense of belonging in school and in their community, and positively influence student academic achievement (Milner, 2006; National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force, 2004; Partee, 2014). Because teachers of diverse backgrounds increase the opportunities for diverse student groups to see themselves reflected in the teacher workforce (Branch & Kritsonis, 2006), all students, regardless of ethnic/racial backgrounds, can begin to associate unrepresented groups with positions of power and career success, which can be a catalyst for change (Ahmad & Boser, 2014; Harrison & Killion, 2007; Milner, 2006; Partee, 2014).
Results from empirical studies conducted in the mid-1980s to late 1990s revealed that increasing the percentage of teachers of diverse backgrounds in U.S. public schools provided additional benefits for students of diverse backgrounds (England & Meier, 1986; Fraga, Meier, & England, 1986; Hess & Leal, 1997; Meire, 1993). For example, England and Meier (1986) examined how discriminatory practices (e.g., special education referrals, disciplinary referrals, high school dropout rates, and college-going rates) in large urban school districts can produce educational inequities for students of diverse backgrounds and perpetuate negative stereotypical organizational behaviors. England and Meier (1986) documented that as the percentage of Black teachers in urban schools with high Black student enrollment increased, incidents of discriminatory practices statistically significantly decreased among Black student population. Similarly, Fraga et al. (1986) noted that large urban high schools with an increase in the percentage of Hispanic teachers reduced Hispanic students’ dropout rates and increased Hispanic students’ college-going rates.
Equally as important is the need for underrepresented male teachers in U.S. public schools (S. P. Johnson, 2008; Mills, Matino, & Lingard, 2004; Men Teach, 2007; Montecinos & Nielsen, 2004). Black male teachers and underrepresented male teachers constitute a miniscule 2.4% of the 3,000,000 teachers in U.S. public schools (Chmelynski, 2006). Researchers (e.g., Brown, 2012; Dee, 2005; Garza, Ovando, & Seymour, 2010; Milner, 2006) have discussed whether matching students and teacher by ethnic/racial and gender diversity benefits students in regard to their self-esteem, school integration, and academic achievement. Brown (2012) argued that Black male teachers have more to contribute to Black male students than a one-dimensional function as role models. Black male teachers have a vast wealth of knowledge, cultural diversity, and intellectual capabilities that can be shared with all students, specifically Black male students, to enhance their learning environment.
Dee (2005) contended that gender significantly influences teachers’ perceptions about students’ behavior and academic achievement in the classroom. Students were perceived to be disruptive and inattentive 37% higher when the teacher was not of the same gender as the student. Furthermore, teachers reported lower academic achievement that was 15% higher for students who were not of the same gender as the teacher. Both male and female students were perceived to be more likely to cause disruptions in the classroom when the teacher was not of the same gender. Similarly, White and underrepresented groups (i.e., Hispanic and Black) were more likely to be perceived as disruptive when their teachers’ ethnic/racial background differed from the students. As such, diverse students groups who are provided with teachers of similar ethnic/racial backgrounds may help to reduce cultural and gender biases that are prevalent in the classroom. Additionally, the mismatch of teacher and student ethnic/racial and gender backgrounds continue to perpetuate stereotypes that stifle students’ academic development and growth (Carrington, Tymms, & Merrell, 2008; Figlio, 2005; Oates, 2003).
McGrady and Reynolds (2013) documented comparisons of teacher background with ethnic/racial student groups (i.e., White, Hispanic, Black, and Asian) in Grade 10 English and mathematics classes. The researchers discovered that of the students who were taught by White teachers, Asian students were perceived more positively in regard to their academic effort and attentiveness than were White and Hispanic students. Black students, however, were perceived more negatively in regard to their academic effort and attentiveness than were other ethnic/racial student groups by White and non-White teachers. Interestingly, McGrady and Reynolds (2013) discovered that pairing teacher and student ethnic/racial background may not eliminate teacher stereotypes about diverse student groups’ abilities in the classroom. The literature examined on teachers of diverse background serving as role models for students of similar backgrounds is briefly summarized in Table 2.
Academically, students of diverse backgrounds demonstrated increased standardized test scores when taught by teachers of similar ethnic/racial and gender backgrounds (Ahmad & Boser, 2014; Dee, 2004). To determine if matching students and teachers by the same ethnic/racial and gender backgrounds increased test scores, Clewell, Puma, and McKay (2005) examined the mathematics and reading test scores of Hispanic and Black students in Grade 4 and Grade 6 who were taught by teachers of the same ethnic/racial background. Clewell et al. (2005) established that Hispanic students’ mathematics test score gains were statistically significantly higher than Hispanic students who were taught by teachers of different ethnic/racial background. Black students in Grade 4 had statistically significantly higher test score gains in mathematics when taught by teachers of the same ethnic/racial background; however, the results were not statistically significantly different for Black students in Grade 6.
Conversely, other researchers (e.g., Cho, 2012; Ehrenberg, Goldhaber, & Brewer, 1995; Krieg, 2005) have argued that pairing teacher and student by ethnic/racial and gender backgrounds does not influence student academic achievement. These researchers (Brown, 2012; Cho, 2012; Krieg, 2005) contend that other school factors (e.g., teacher preparation and training and teacher years of experience), and not teacher characteristics, influence student academic achievement. As such, the issue of teacher diversity as related to student achievement remains an issue that warrants further research. The literature examined on teachers of diverse background and their influence on the academic achievement of students from diverse backgrounds is briefly summarized in Table 3.
Students Need Exposure to a Wide Range of Cultural and Linguistic Experiences
Culturally diverse teachers, being similar to culturally diverse students, may be better aware of and possess a deeper understanding of diversity. Accordingly, these cultural connections may permit culturally diverse teachers to serve as advocates for a diverse student population (Tyler, Yzquierdo, Lopez-Reyna, & Saunders-Flippin, 2004; Villegas & Irvine, 2010). Additionally, culturally diverse teachers may influence the cultural climate within the classroom, facilitate multicultural interactions among students, and may be able to address better the learning styles of a diverse student population (Bone & Slate, 2012; Harris, Joyner, & Slate, 2010; Tyler et al., 2004). Because teachers of diverse backgrounds may have also experienced isolation and inequality during their school experience, teachers of diverse backgrounds may be able to relate with students of diverse groups in a way that White teachers may not (Nieto, 1999; Villegas & Irvine, 2010). Garcia-Nevarez, Stafford, and Arias (2005) stated that Hispanic teachers welcomed the use of Spanish to be spoken by their Hispanic students in the classroom more so than non-Hispanic teachers. As such, teacher of diverse backgrounds improve the academic achievement and school experiences of diverse student groups because teachers of diverse backgrounds help to break down cultural stereotypes and educational inequities that are prevalent in U.S. public schools (Villegas & Irvine, 2010). The literature examined on students’ need for cultural and linguistic experiences is briefly summarized in Table 4.
Reasons for Low Numbers of Teachers of Diverse Backgrounds in the Teacher Workforce
Nationally, school improvement efforts have been focused on the need for more teacher diversity in U.S. public schools (Ahmad & Boser, 2014; Boser, 2011; Dilworth & Coleman, 2014; National Collaborative on Diversity in Teaching Force, 2004; Partee, 2014; Villegas & Irvine, 2010). With an overwhelming majority of the teacher workforce being White (82%), school districts and educational leaders have not kept up with the changing student demographics in U.S. public schools. From the review of literature related to low numbers of teachers of diverse backgrounds in the teacher workforce, the following reasons were identified: (a) achievement gap for students of diverse backgrounds, (b) low secondary and postsecondary completion rate, and (c) recruitment, retention, and attrition. Each reason is discussed in detail.
Achievement Gap of Students of Diverse Backgrounds
The U.S. Census Bureau (2012) reported that the population will become increasingly more ethnically/racial diverse by 2060, with one in three U.S. residents being Hispanic. The Asian population is projected to increase from 15.9 million in 2012 to 34.4 million in 2060. Similarly, the Black population is expected to increase from 41.2 million to 61.8 million over the same time period. Conversely, the White population is projected to have a slight increase from 197.8 million in 2012 to 199.6 million in 2060; however, between 2024 and 2060 the White population is projected to decrease by 20.6 million. Because of these changing demographics, the U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority nation by 2043. Therefore, a need exists for highly effective teachers of diverse backgrounds to prepare students for high achievement and postsecondary attainment (Ahmad & Boser, 2014; Irizarry & Donaldson, 2012; Pew Research Center, 2005).