When It Comes to Employing More Teachers of Color, Some Funders Are On the Right Track

We've written in the past about funder-backed efforts to increase the number of teachers of color in America's K-12 classrooms. Now, a recent study underscores why that work is so important.

For students of color, especially African American males, having teachers that look like them matters. A new study published by the Institute of Labor Economics finds that African American students who are assigned to a teacher of their race in grades three, four or five perform better on standardized assessments and are significantly less likely to drop out of high school. Such students are also more likely to aspire to attend college after high school.

These findings were true for both male and female students, but the results were especially pronounced among African American males, a group with lower test performance and higher high school drop-out rates. The authors analyzed data from Tennessee and North Carolina.

The study does not say why having teachers who look like them makes such a big difference for African American students. Other research suggests that African American teachers hold higher expectations for these students and are less likely to suspend or expel them. National data indicate that African American students are disciplined more harshly and at higher rates than their white counterparts.

Policy actions across the country, meanwhile, do not appear to have kept pace with these research findings on the value of African American teachers. The nation's K-12 teaching force remains overwhelmingly white, and a 2015 analysis by the Shanker Institute found that the number of African American teachers has decreased in nine major cities, including New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In addition, The 74 reported that many school districts have not prioritized workforce diversity and that African American teachers have lower job satisfaction rates than white teachers.

Some efforts by funders seek to increase the number of teachers of color in American classrooms. Large, funder-supported national organizations such as Teach For America and the New Teacher Project want to increase the racial diversity of the nation's teachers, recruiting more African Americans and Hispanics to become elementary and secondary teachers. Smaller, more local efforts, such as Teach Tomorrow in Oakland, have similar goals.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is one of the largest funders interested in boosting the number of teachers of color in American classrooms, as we've reported. One example is its support of a program in the D.C. Public Education Fund that helps male graduates of color become early childhood paraprofessionals as a step toward becoming certified teachers. 


Having more teachers of color is not simply a feel-good measure. As this new research demonstrates, it is a best practice in improving educational outcomes among the most disadvantaged student populations. Funders would be wise to pay attention to these findings and step up efforts to diversify the ranks of K-12 teachers.