Imagine walking into a classroom where the teacher looks like you and can relate to your experiences and cultural background – this is the powerful reality of having teachers of color teach students of color. Yet many school districts struggle to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. This struggle is amplified in the wake of a nationwide pandemic that shook the foundations of schools and left many to operate without a full teaching staff. The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) is working in partnership with the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Mid-Atlantic to use research and data to increase the number of teachers of color hired in the state and eventually improve student outcomes.
Studies indicate that Black students who are taught by at least one Black teacher during grades K–3 had higher test scores and graduation and college enrollment rates, and students of color taught by a teacher of the same race or ethnicity had fewer suspensions and other disciplinary outcomes. Teachers of the same race may also provide more culturally responsive instruction, which can improve students' reading skills and academic achievement and lower their number of disciplinary incidents — incidents that we know disproportionately affect Black students. And exposure to a diverse school faculty and student body can improve cognitive development, including critical thinking and problem-solving, and increase social-emotional development, engagement, test scores, and attendance in students of all races.
An analysis of the NJDOE data and an interactive map show where teacher diversity is lacking. In the 2017/18 school year, 56 percent of New Jersey students were students of color, yet only 16 percent of teachers, administrators, and other professional staff were people of color. Within that same school year, about 50 New Jersey public school districts did not have a single teacher of color, and more than 160,000 students in the state attended schools that had no teachers of color.
New Jersey, like many other states across the country, knows the limited diversity among its educators is a detriment to its students and is committed to diversifying the educator workforce. The state has outlined an ambitious goal for increasing educator diversity that guides our work together:
To achieve this statewide goal, local school districts need to assess their current approach and implement stronger hiring and retention practices for educators of color. Together with NJDOE, we recently concluded a coaching series for New Jersey school districts centered on hiring processes. The project, which ran from November 2022 through June 2023, provided coaching to 10 districts, building their capacity to use data and implement practices aimed at increasing the number of teachers of color hired. Specifically, we explored how to:
Districts started using these practices right away, incorporating short-term changes into their 2023/2024 hiring processes while building the foundation for long-term changes. We are partnering with NJDOE on a study to understand how districts implement what they have learned and assess the outcomes of the changes districts have made. The findings and lessons learned may help states and districts across the country implement their own continuous improvement processes to increase the number of teachers of color they hire.
We created an Automated Teacher Diversity District Tool that can help you get started. This user-friendly tool can help you generate district reports on the racial and ethnic makeup of student and teacher populations and teacher retention rates by race and ethnicity. Then you can consult this Guidebook for Hiring and Selection to develop a plan of action for your district or state. You can also contact your local REL for additional support.
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