What Does This New Study on Diversity Mean for the K-12 World—and Its Funders?

photo:   Monkey Business Images /shutterstock

photo:  Monkey Business Images/shutterstock

Education organizations—from school districts and charter management organizations to education technology firms and policy and research organizations—have long professed a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their organizations. A new report from the NewSchools Venture Fund, however, finds that these organizations have a lot of work to do to make that commitment a reality.

The NewSchools report, "Unrealized Impact," was funded by an alliance of prominent education funders. In addition to NewSchools itself, supporters include the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, Raikes Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation. The report was based on surveys of 5,000 individuals in more than 200 educational organizations, including public and private schools, charter organizations, research firms, funders, education nonprofits and vendors of education products and services. The study explored the demographics of education organizations, the policies and practices employed to promote DEI, staff perceptions of DEI in their organizations, and the links between DEI and student success.

This report comes more than a year after NewSchools announced new grantmaking to support diverse leaders in March 2016. At that time, it gave support to several organizations focused squarely on this challenge, including Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) and Latinos for Education. (See its full "Diverse Leaders" portfolio of grantees here.)

There are good reasons that NewSchools, which we recently profiled, and other funders have lately focused on diversity within education organizations. More than 60 percent of the nation's K-12 students are now Hispanic or African-American; yet, the odds are strong that many of these students will be taught by teachers and led by principals who do not look like them. "Unrealized Impact" found that African Americans and Hispanics accounted for only 41 percent of school staff, 24 percent of organizational leadership, and 17 percent of CEOs.

Research shows that more diverse education organizations promote student success through a deeper understanding of the students served. Greater DEI also provides a foundation for trusting relationships with students.

"Unrealized Impact" is the latest funder-backed study to spotlight the need for the K-12 sector to increase the diversity of their organizations. In the fall of 2016, a study jointly authored by the Brookings Institution and the National Center on Teacher Quality highlighted the demographic gap between public school students and their teachers. Other reports, by the Shanker Institute in 2015 and the Center for American Progress in 2014, also found that the nation's teacher workforce does not reflect the demographics of their students.

But what's the solution, here? And how can grantmakers and K-12 organizations advance that solution? 

"Unrealized Impact" and the Brookings-NCTQ report that preceded it reflect a growing realization that education organizations cannot increase DEI solely through career fairs and recruiting drives. Of course, these are important elements of a DEI strategy, but education organizations cannot simply hire their way to greater diversity. "Unrealized Impact" found that most organizations studied have an expressed intention to become more diverse, but that many lack a strategy for getting there. Fewer than half of the organizations surveyed had written DEI policies, overall strategies for DEI, or metrics for gauging success.

NewsSchools and the other funders behind this report hope it will fuel more action to increase DEI in the education sector. Funders can encourage action by funding efforts centered around DEI. Some have already entered this arena, and we've written about these efforts.

The Kellogg Foundation is one of the funders of DEI efforts. In 2016, for example, Kellogg funded a program to improve the teacher pipelines in the District of Columbia Public Schools by helping male college graduates of color become paraprofessionals as a step toward full certification as classroom teachers. The Gates Foundation has also funded similar initiatives, including its support for teacher preparation channels that look beyond the traditional university-based approaches to build a more diverse pipeline for teachers. A recent initiative from Texas philanthropist Charles Henry Butt seeks to enlarge the teaching force in Texas, and at least one recipient university will use its funds to emphasize creating more bilingual education teachers—an important step for a state with a rapidly growing population of English learners.

Other efforts to diversify the nation's teacher workforce are underway, as well—at the national level, with groups such as Teach for America and The New Teacher Project, and at the local level with initiatives by local organizations, often with backing from local funders. These are but a few examples of efforts to increase the diversity of the teaching force, but there is more to be done—in school leadership, the central office, the board room, and in the ranks of education nonprofits and vendors.

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