Screenshot of two desks with notebooks and laptops being used by students.

The Research Says: Diversity in Teaching Matters

Students of color make up almost half of the U.S. public school population, but the teacher workforce is far less diverse. Some recent key research demonstrates how and why a diverse teacher workforce is crucial to student success.
Thursday, October 1, 2015

As the student population in public schools has become increasingly diverse in race and ethnicity, the teaching workforce hasn’t kept pace—and may even be backsliding, according to a new report released by the Albert Shanker Institute. The report highlights some promising initiatives and offers a suite of recommendations. Not noted, however, is the dearth of hard data on just how and why a diverse teacher workforce is crucial to student success, social cohesion, and the nation’s economic vitality. There are some great theories and lots of compelling stories, but we need a lot more hard evidence of the kind that emerged this year.

In Representation in the Classroom: The Effect of Own-Race Teachers on Student Achievement, Anna J. Egalite, Brian Kisida, and Marcus A. Winters examine the relationship between students’ standardized test scores and teacher race/ethnicity. The authors found that African American, Asian, and white students’ test scores went up when they were assigned a teacher of the same race/ethnicity. They also found that lower-performing students of some backgrounds appeared to particularly benefit from being assigned to a teacher of the same race/ethnicity.

In the working paper Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations, Seth Gershenson, Stephen B. Holt, and Nicholas Papageorge investigate teachers’ expectations for student educational attainment. The authors found that “non-black teachers had significantly lower educational expectations for black students than [did] black teachers.” Both studies underscore the benefit of recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching corps in America—one that holds high expectations for all students regardless of background.

Readers should exercise caution so as not to conclude that students should be exposed only to teachers of the same race/ethnicity. In an EdWeek blog series earlier this year, Dr. Travis J. Bristol and Dr. Terrenda Corisa White described the importance of exposing all children to a diverse teaching force in order to help mitigate bias among students and “prepare them to be global citizens.” Furthermore, they assert that teachers themselves benefit from teacher diversity, which helps to broaden perspectives and facilitate “innovative approaches to pedagogy.” You can read about some of the exciting efforts across the nation to recruit and retain diverse teachers in a new series on EdWeek.

Teach for America works hard to combat the diversity gap. This year, almost half of all Teach For America corps members are people of color, and we’re developing programming for our alumni teachers to support them in their continued work in the classroom.

Furthermore, one of the key tenets of our research agenda is a focus on diversity among those serving low-income children, and we’re seeking research partnerships to examine this issue. It’s not enough to aspire to an equal and diverse education system; we must build policies based on evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Understanding the factors around student success, including how to develop and effectively deploy a diverse teaching corps, will be a critical determinant of our future success.


Join our diverse force of leaders shaping the course of our nation.