Even as poverty-impacted schools have found success recruiting more high-ability teachers over the past two decades, fewer teachers of color are sticking with the profession. A new study from the University of Washington College of Education points to one of the biggest obstacles to closing the teacher diversity gap: teachers of color are significantly less satisfied with their jobs than white colleagues.
Black and Hispanic teachers were significantly less likely to report being satisfied with their jobs than other teachers, researchers found, even as job and pay satisfaction among teachers in urban high-minority schools overall has trended higher. Among the 2008 cohort, 78 percent of minority teachers reported being satisfied with their job, compared to 86 percent of white teachers.
"We should be concerned about minority teachers being less satisfied with their jobs, because job satisfaction has shown to be predictive of teachers’ retention decisions," said Min Sun, an assistant professor of education at the UW and co-author of the study, published in the journal Education Finance and Policy.
And without retaining more teachers of color, Sun said, the likelihood of closing the teaching diversity gap is slim.
"Because minority teachers are more likely to be placed in schools serving a large proportion of historically disadvantaged students, addressing their dissatisfaction may have significant implications on staffing these schools," Sun said. "Recent research provides an increasing amount of evidence that minority students benefit significantly more from ethno-racial congruent teachers in terms of improving academic aspiration, behavior and achievement."
The study comes a month after the U.S. Department of Education’s National Summit on Teacher Diversity, where Secretary of Education John King called for the teaching workforce to better reflect America’s increasingly diverse student population. While the nation's public schools serve approximately 35 percent black and Hispanic students, only 15 percent of the teaching workforce is black or Hispanic.
Sun said the study points to a need for better understanding what drives high-quality teachers of color to join the teaching workforce in the first place and how to support these teachers and increase their likelihood of remaining in the profession.
More high-ability teachers enter workforce
Sun and her fellow researchers also found an interruption in a decades-long downward trend in education schools' ability to attract top performing students. From 2000 to 2008, the SAT and ACT scores of college graduates entering the teaching profession relative to their peers increased from the 42nd percentile to the 48th percentile on average.
The recent improvement in the ability level of new teachers entering high-minority schools is driven almost entirely by an increase in the competitiveness of teachers working in high-minority urban school settings. Urban high-minority schools have gone from employing teachers who ranked roughly four percentage points lower than non-urban, low-minority schools in 1993 to employing teachers who ranked approximately eight percentage points higher than non-urban low-minority schools in 2008.
While the study did not explicitly evaluate what drove change in teachers' academic ability levels, Sun said the increasing competitiveness of teacher hiring in high-minority urban schools may be the result of intentional efforts by districts and educational organizations in the post-No Child Left Behind period, such as the growth of alternative pathways into teaching.
"The patterns that we observe at both the aggregate level and within high-minority urban schools suggest that efforts by policymakers and practitioners over the past two decades to bolster the recruitment of academically skilled college graduates into teaching may, in fact, be bearing fruit," Sun said.
To continue the progress in attracting high-ability and diverse teachers into poverty-impacted urban schools, Sun makes two suggestions: 1) increase the use of scholarships and financial aids to recruit academically skilled and diverse candidates into teacher preparation programs and retain them in hard-to-staff schools, and 2) adopt policies and school supports such as strong mentoring and induction programs for beginning teachers.
Min Sun, Assistant Professor of Education
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