Research identifies benefits of access to same-race/ethnicity teachers for Black and Hispanic students. However, the teacher workforce is overwhelmingly White, and little is known about the system-level strategies that are successful at diversifying the profession. In recognition of Black History Month, we asked researcher Dr. David Blazar to discuss his recently awarded IES project that aims to advance the literature base on how school systems can recruit more Black teachers. This is what he shared.
What does existing research say about the need for more Black teachers?
Building on a longstanding theoretical and qualitative literature base from scholars including Gloria Ladson-Billings, Geneva Gay, Richard Milner, and many others, researchers have gathered causal evidence to support the claim of the benefit of Black teachers to Black students. Analyzing test score data from Tennessee's Project STAR experiment, Dee (2004) found that assignment to a Black teacher significantly increased the math and reading achievement of Black students.
Fast forward 18 years, and the research findings largely remain the same while the evidence base has grown substantially (see one meta-analysis, and a research synthesis). In the second experiment on this topic after Dee, my own recent analyses currently available in a working paper not only replicate the earlier test-score impacts, but also show that
- Test-scores effects (roughly 0.2 SD) persist at very similar magnitudes 6 years later when students are in high school, a rare pattern in education research
- Black and other underrepresented teachers of color have even larger effects (upwards of 0.45 SD) on the social-emotional development of their students of color and their White students
- Black and other teachers of color are much more likely than White teachers to hold mindsets and engage in classroom practices aligned to “culturally responsive teaching,” which in turn benefits a range of student outcomes
In short: The effects of Black teachers on the outcomes of Black students are larger than those of most other interventions as documented in the broader education research literature (generally no higher than 0.1 SD).
I pair these hugely meaningful findings with three more sobering facts:
- Black teachers are underrepresented in the teacher workforce. Roughly 7% of teachers nationally are Black, compared to roughly 15% of students. These patterns have not shifted much over the last several decades, even though calls to diversify the teacher workforce started over 30 years ago.
- The mismatch between student and teacher demographics may be due to “leaks” at multiple stages of the school-to-career pipeline, including lower rates of high school graduation amongst Black students relative to their White peers, similar gaps in college graduation rates, less interest in teaching as a career, and greater financial barriers and opportunity costs even when the interest is there.
- Despite impressive work by educators, scholars, and policymakers to design multiple strategies for recruiting Black individuals into teaching, the bulk of these remain “promising practices” rather than evidence-based best practices.
How will your IES-funded study address the need for more Black teachers?
Because the underrepresentation of Black teachers in U.S. schools is notable and longstanding, researchers and school systems must work together—and quickly—to consider multiple strategies. Stating that we need to diversify the teacher workforce is neither new nor novel. The imperative was posed several decades ago, and it is time that we figure out how best to do it.
To address this challenge head on, I am collaborating with Ramon Goings, Seth Gershenson, and other scholars, as well as with state agencies and policy actors in Maryland to explore several recruitment strategies aimed at diversifying the teacher workforce, implemented at different stages of the school-to-career pipeline.
Aligned to the theoretical literature, a core feature of our study is that we focus on strategies that look locally for prospective teaching talent and are therefore known as “grow-your-own” programs. These approaches aim to align the demographics of incoming teachers with the demographics of current student populations and ensure that those incoming teachers are familiar with the local area. We further designed our study to explore multiple components of and potential solutions to the policy problem, given that recruitment is unlikely to be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach. Even though the partnership and data come from Maryland, the recruitment strategies and our study are relevant to the recruitment strategies used in states across the country.
The three strategies are—
- Early exposure to teaching in high school through the Teacher Academy of Maryland—a career and technical education program of study—that provides high school students with an opportunity to learn about teaching as a career, gain teaching experience in a real-world classroom, and earn an associate’s degree in teaching alongside their high school diploma.
- Financial support and incentives for college students, including the recently implemented Teaching Fellows for Maryland Scholarship. Scholarships aim to decrease financial barriers and opportunity costs that may prevent Black individuals from becoming teachers.
- Career-changer programs, such as alternative-route teacher certification and residency programs that both decrease barriers to entry into the profession and focus on recruiting locally.
Our analyses will provide some of the first quantitative data linking the rollout of varied recruitment strategies and the workforce decisions of prospective Black teachers. Beyond analyses of each individual program, our findings will provide important guidance not only about how best to intervene but also when to do so. We look forward to sharing what we find and to building an evidence base alongside other scholars and funding agencies tackling this important issue.
David Blazar is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) in the Education Policy and Leadership program. He also is the Faculty Director of the Maryland Equity Project, a UMCP initiative to improve educational outcomes and close achievement gaps through research.
This interview blog is part of a larger IES blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the education sciences. It was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council, and Wai-Ying Chow (Wai-Ying.Chow@ed.gov), the Effective Instruction program officer within the National Center for Education Research.