An Equity-Focused Approach to Increasing Racial Diversity in the Teaching Profession

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Key New NEPC Policy Brief Takeaway: Brief warns that care and skepticism should accompany efforts to foster an educational workforce representative of its general population.

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For very good reasons, there is a near unanimity among researchers and practitioners about the need to recruit and retain more teachers of color. Diversification of the teaching ranks has clear benefits. But a brief released today argues that the push for diversifying the teaching force should be scrutinized within the context of larger patterns and structures of racial injustice and should be thoughtfully and carefully pursued as part of broader efforts toward equity-oriented school reform.

The brief, titled, We All Want More Teachers of Color, Right?: Concerns and Considerations about the Emergent Consensus, explores the question, “How might we acknowledge and work toward the important task of diversifying the educator workforce while maintaining a healthy skepticism about the confluence of actors with their differing motivations who are promoting the diversification of the teaching profession?” The brief’s authors – Thomas M. Philip of the University of California, Berkeley and Anthony L. Brown of the University of Texas at Austin – caution in particular against the “no excuses” school model, where teachers of color must try to satisfy irreconcilable demands focused on extreme accountability on one hand and commitments for cultural relevance and justice on the other.

As Philip and Brown make clear, research does document how teachers of color serve as cultural translators, are more aware of racial trauma experienced by students, and are more likely to work in schools that disproportionately enroll low-income students of color. They bring concrete benefits for racially matched students concerning higher test scores, more positive disciplinary outcomes, higher expectations, and authentic forms of care.

Yet calls to diversify the teaching force must be understood within the current societal context, where diversity has often been embraced in ways that have blunted demands for structural change. Philip and Brown examine research about the diversification of teachers, with particular attention to assumptions about racial/cultural match and the discourse of role models. While the rationales for diversifying the teaching profession are (as noted above) wide-ranging, it is the fusing of racial/cultural match and the role model thesis that has had the greatest mainstream currency in justifying the need for teachers of color.

The authors conclude by offering questions that those concerned with the diversification of the teaching force might consider as safeguards to promote a focus on strategic essentialism and the transformation of schools.

Find We All Want More Teachers of Color, Right?: Concerns and Considerations about the Emergent Consensus, by Thomas M. Philip and Anthony L. Brown, at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/diversity

This policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (greatlakescenter.org).

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: https://nepc.colorado.edu

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William J. Mathis
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