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Roundup Blog Series

Building a Diverse Educator Workforce

a teacher and a student talking in classroom

By Lisa Lachlan | January 28, 2021

Districts may lose—or fail to attract—teachers of color at multiple points in the educator pipeline. We invited author Lisa Lachlan, Ed.D., director of strategic partnerships for the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), to share her perspective on this critical issue and to highlight a few programs of note. These programs include Louisiana’s Believe and Prepare initiative, which works to strengthen teacher preparation and support new and developing educators, including through a teacher mentoring program. This blog post is the second in a series from the Southwest Teacher Preparation and Professional Development Research Partnership, through which REL Southwest partners with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) to support its goal of ensuring qualified teachers for all students.

The year 2020 has focused attention on issues of racial inequity and the work of increasing diversity in our systems of justice, government, healthcare, and education. In educational systems and institutions, these efforts are not new. Now seems an opportune time to look at examples of statewide approaches underway to diversify the education workforce. Within the educator pipeline, there are multiple places where we may lose—or fail to attract—teachers of color. Schools, districts, and state education systems all have a role to play in dismantling inequities at every stage of the career continuum.

Establishing a diverse workforce is critical to closing student achievement and opportunity gaps. Teacher diversity, and a resultant increase in racial matching, is associated with improved academic outcomes on standardized tests, attendance, retention, advanced-level course enrollment, graduation rates, and college-entrance rates for students of color.1 Teachers of color are associated more frequently with use of culturally relevant practices and have a greater likelihood of addressing racism and bias in their classrooms, which better prepares students for a diverse world.2 Yet across the U.S., the racial disparities between teachers and students are striking. More than half of the students in U.S. public schools are students of color (51 percent), while only 20 percent of teachers are people of color.3 While the population of teachers of color is growing overall, the population of Black and Native American teachers is a declining share of the workforce.4

Districts and schools have started to prioritize diversity in their hiring practices,5 yet local and state education systems must also address systemic inequities across the career continuum—from attracting students of color into the profession, to preparing them for the classroom, to developing, supporting, and retaining them. The Talent Development Framework from the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) illustrates how states and districts can address equity systemically, rather than relying on piecemeal approaches such as hiring.

Initially, hiring more teachers of color may seem like the straightforward solution to addressing racial disparities. However, simply resolving to hire more diverse candidates will not address systemic problems. For example, it will not solve the challenge that college graduates of color have, on average, higher levels of student debt than White graduates,6 and that the low pay of starting teachers may be a particularly significant deterrent to teaching. Furthermore, hiring will not address the disproportionate attrition of teachers of color in their first years,7 or the detrimental effects of Brown v. Board of Education and subsequent policies that displaced Black educators through the “integration” and “standardization” of schooling and teacher licensure.8

So how do we change our systems to dismantle the inequitable and exclusionary practices? Below are three promising programs addressing statewide inequities systemically at various stages of the career continuum by introducing more equitable and inclusionary practices. Future research should examine the impact of these or similar programs on recruitment and retention of teachers of color.

Preparing diverse teacher candidates to serve in underserved and rural schools in Louisiana. To address ongoing teacher shortages in underserved schools, now exacerbated by hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic, Louisiana’s Believe and Prepare initiative has been implemented statewide. It is included at all Louisiana educator preparation programs and has served over 2,500 teacher candidates. Lessons from a pilot program designed to strengthen Louisiana’s rural teacher workforce informed the requirements and supports now implemented across the state. Rural program supports included structured practice and mentoring (coteaching, observation and feedback sessions, collaborative planning time) for one period every day, during the entire school year. REL Southwest’s Teacher Preparation and Professional Development partnership with the Louisiana Department of Education is focused on examining the effects of this program.

Offering teacher candidates alternative pathways to licensure in Mississippi. Teacher licensure exams create a barrier for teacher candidates of color despite little evidence that these exams predict teacher effectiveness. Multiple states recognized licensure exams as exclusionary practices and developed programs to offer a variety of pathways toward licensure. For example, the Mississippi Department of Education has enacted alternative or new performance-based licensure structures throughout their state that offer an equitable approach to expanding access to teachers. New pathways enable educators to pursue licensure while receiving ongoing professional learning supports. These programs recognize the value of demonstrated success in helping students succeed on high-stakes tests and illustrate that value through alternative pathways.

Valuing diversity in mentoring in Ohio. To address the disproportionate levels of attrition among new teachers of color, states and districts can build mentors’ capacity to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in induction programs. Through GTL Center work in Ohio, Department of Education (ODE) state leaders are designing supports for mentors toward equitable and inclusive mentoring. Since working with GTL, ODE began refining their Resident Educator Program to help address systemic inequities in education and diversify the teaching workforce. The GTL Center's Insights on Diversifying the Educator Workforce Data Tool was used to measure, analyze, and visualize existing educator workforce diversity gaps across the educator career continuum. Next, ODE and GTL consulted with educators and stakeholders, identifying underlying root causes for gaps and linking identified root causes with evidence-based strategies, like mentoring and induction. While the work is still underway, the state is developing guidance to support mentors and refining mentor standards to focus on deepening and maintaining equity principles and culturally responsive pedagogy; cultivating relational trust, caring, mutual respect, and honesty; and advancing equitable, inclusive instruction through the application of equity and culturally responsive teaching.

These examples illustrate that diversifying the workforce is a complex endeavor that goes beyond hiring. These changes can only be successful and sustainable when systemic barriers across all points of the career continuum are removed. The sustainable efforts of diversifying our teaching workforce require a model that also prioritizes equity and inclusion across the career continuum.

For more information on teacher mentoring and induction programs and building a diverse teacher workforce:


1 Villegas & Davis, 2008; Villegas & Irvine, 2010.

2 Grissom & Redding, 2016.

3 National Center for Education Statistics, 2019; Taie & Goldring, 2017.

4 Carver-Thomas, 2018.

5 Bond, Quintero, Casey, & Di Carlo, 2015.

6 Scott-Clayton & Li, 2016.

7 Ingersoll, Merrill, & Stuckey, 2014.

8 Tillman, 2004.


Bond, B., Quintero, E., Casey, L., & Di Carlo, M. (2015). The state of teacher diversity in American education. Washington, DC: Albert Shanker Institute. Retrieved from

Carver-Thomas, D. (2018). Diversifying the teaching profession: How to recruit and retain teachers of color. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

Grissom, J. A., & Redding, C. (2016). Discretion and disproportionality: Explaining the underrepresentation of high-achieving student of color in gifted programs. AERA Open, 2(1), 1–25.

Ingersoll, R., Merrill, L., & Stuckey, D. (2014). Seven trends: the transformation of the teaching force, updated April 2014. CPRE Report (#RR-80). Philadelphia, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Pennsylvania.

National Center for Education Statistics (2019). Characteristics of public school teachers. Retrieved from

Taie, S., & Goldring, R. (2017). Characteristics of public elementary and secondary school teachers in the United States: Results from the 2015–16 national teacher and principal survey first look (NCES 2017-072). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

Scott-Clayton, J., & Li, J. (2016). Black-White disparity in student loan debt more than triples after graduation. Evidence Speaks Reports, 2(3). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Tillman, L. C. (2004). African American principals and the legacy of “Brown.” Review of Research in Education, 28, 101–146.

Villegas, A. M., & Davis, D. (2008). Preparing teachers of color to confront racial/ethnic disparities in educational outcomes. In M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, & J. McIntyre (Eds.), Handbook of research in teacher education: Enduring issues in changing contexts (pp. 583–605). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum.

Villegas, A. M., & Irvine, J. J. (2010, April 16). Diversifying the teaching force: An examination of major arguments. The Urban Review 42, 175–192.

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Author Information

photo of Lisa Lachlan

Lisa Lachlan

Principal Researcher | American Institutes for Research