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Student Diversity, TFA, and the Teaching Workforce: What the Numbers Tell Us

Data show Teach For America is the most diverse among all large teacher providers.
Thursday, January 21, 2016

The recent authorization of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act has generated a renewed sense of optimism about the nation’s education system, especially at the state level. Through the ESSA, states will enjoy increased control over K-12 education policy and reduced federal oversight. As state officials get to work hashing out new goals, accountability measures, and plans to address underperforming schools, they should pay heed to a burgeoning body of research on the benefits of a diverse teacher workforce as a key lever in boosting student achievement, especially for low-income students and students of color.

Last fall, a Shanker Institute report on the state of teacher diversity in our nation’s public schools found that while student diversity is increasing, the teacher workforce has become markedly less ethnically and racially diverse. That hasn’t been the case at Teach For America, and we helped shed light on the report’s significance by calling attention to other recent research that links teacher diversity to student achievement.

At TFA, we believe deeply in the importance of a teacher workforce that reflects the diverse identities of America’s students—diversity is one of our core values, and it’s at the heart of our work. To help us understand how we’re doing in this important area, we recently conducted an analysis of the racial and ethnic diversity in our nation's large teacher-preparation programs and how it compares with that of our 2015 corps of teachers. This comparison shows that, of any large program in the U.S., the 2015 corps has the highest percentage of individuals who identify as non-white—51 percent—a proportion that reflects the country’s public-school student population.

Racial and Ethnic Representation by Program Type
SOURCE: 2014 U.S. Department of Education, Higher Education Act Title II State Report Card System (AY 2012-13 data)
SOURCE: 2015-16 Teach For America Official Statistics Report “Corps Size & Demographics: 2015-16”
SOURCE: 2012-13 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data


This is no fluke. By maximizing the diversity of our teaching corps, we ensure that we’re enlisting the country’s top talent, whether they share the backgrounds of students affected by educational inequity or come from backgrounds of privilege—we absolutely need both. Since 2010, our corps has become appreciably more racially and ethnically diverse, and over the past two years, the proportion of non-white corps members has hovered around 50 percent.

Of course, focusing solely on race and ethnicity understates the true diversity of TFA’s corps—close to half of this year’s corps members come from low-income backgrounds, and 1 in 3 are the first in their family to graduate from college. In urban and rural schools, in 52 regions, they are working alongside corps members who have long traditions of college-going in their families, preceded by consistently strong schooling in K-12, and whose recognition of the importance and value of a quality education compelled them to join Teach For America and work to provide that for all students. 

TFA is committed to dramatically increasing the diversity of America’s teacher workforce across multiple dimensions. We work to recruit accomplished individuals with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, including teachers with STEM expertise, LGBTQ teachers, military veteran teachers, teachers of color, and teachers with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.

As evidence grows linking student achievement to teacher diversity, so too does the moral imperative to attract and retain a teacher workforce that represents the students it serves. The Every Student Succeeds Act presents a new opportunity for states to craft innovative education policies rooted in local contexts. We hope that the development of a diverse teacher pipeline is part of this strategy, and we look forward to playing a role in this work. 

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