What Are Funders Doing to Increase Diversity in the Teacher Workforce?

A new report co-authored by a nationally respected think tank and a funder-backed education research and advocacy organization is the latest to shine a spotlight on the diversity — or lack thereof — of America's public school teachers.

The new report by the Brookings Institution and the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) reported that while students of color comprise more than half of the nation's public school students, teachers of color account for only 18 percent of public school teachers. But this finding is not what makes this report stand out. After all, previous studies — the Shanker Institute in 2015 and the Center for American Progress in 2014 — have highlighted the demographic divide between K-12 students and their teachers.

What is noteworthy about the work by Brookings and NCTQ is their finding that hiring alone won't narrow the gap. As Brookings stated in an article highlighting the study on its website, "We simply cannot hire our way to a more diverse teacher workforce." Oh sure, hiring more African American and Hispanic teachers helps, but analysis by Brookings and NCTQ indicates that stepped-up hiring alone will barely nudge the demographic gap. The authors advise a more strategic effort to really narrow the divide over time.

OK, so if greater hiring alone will not bring greater diversity to the teacher workforce, what will? And are there funders supporting this work? Brookings and NCTQ point to three possible leaks in the teacher pipeline where future teachers of color could be lost: college enrollment and completion, interest in a teaching career, and retaining teachers in the classroom.

Becoming a teacher requires a college education, so a logical first step is greater rates of college enrollment and completion among African American and Hispanic students. A wide range of funders large and small are writing checks to support college readiness, college access, and college completion programs that include among their goals, increasing college enrollment and success among historically underrepresented students, such as Hispanics and African Americans. Earlier this year, for example, we wrote about efforts by the Helios Education Foundation to boost college completion among Hispanics, the fastest-growing group in the U.S.

There is undoubtedly more work to be done to entice young men and women of color to choose education as a profession, as well as efforts to retain young teachers of color in the classrooms. Fortunately, funders are taking greater interest in new approaches to teacher preparation and the demographic composition of those teachers. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced in 2015 that it would invest millions in new approaches to teacher preparation beyond traditional approaches. Creating new teachers is a top priority for Bob Hughes, who took charge of Gates' massive K-12 funding program earlier this year.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation is a funder paying close attention to the need for teachers who look like the students they teach. Earlier this year, Kellogg funded a program in the nation's capital to improve the pipeline for teachers of color in the District of Columbia Public Schools by helping male graduates of color become early childhood paraprofessionals as a step toward becoming fully certified teachers. Venture philanthropists such as the NewSchools Venture Fund recently unveiled a diverse leadership strategy aimed at creating more African American and Hispanic school leaders. Perhaps NewSchools or other funders could leverage this strategy further by developing more pipelines to attract and retain more teachers of color.

These and similar actions are encouraging, but as the Brookings-NCTQ report emphasized, more work is needed if the stubborn demographic gap between students of color and their teachers is to be bridged. Help wanted signs and recruiting drives alone will not get us there.