While America’s student body has grown more diverse over time, the teachers working with them have remained overwhelmingly white. While more than half of public school students are students of color, teachers of color make up only 21% of the public school teacher workforce.
Research has told us a lot about why this is a problem and how it holds back students. Students of all races have better perceptions of teachers of color. Many parents also know the value of a diverse faculty. And they feel the impact when teachers of color leave their children’s schools.
Teachers of color are particularly essential for students of color, who are often subjected to negative implicit bias from white teachers.
This is especially true for Black teachers and students. Black teachers chip away at the pervasive “belief gap” by holding different beliefs about students; for example, they’re much more likely to see their students as college-bound than white teachers. Bright Black students taught by Black teachers are more likely to get into gifted-and-talented classrooms.
Across the board, Black teachers hold higher expectations for Black students, which we know to be an essential component of success for students of color. They’re also less likely to be suspended by Black teachers. Not surprisingly, these higher expectations are associated with better student outcomes. Black students who have been taught by at least one Black teacher during their school career increased their academic achievement. They were also more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college.
These benefits also hold true for low-income students. Being taught by at least one Black teacher in grades 3-5 increases the likelihood that low-income students aspire to attend a four-year college. While it is thought there are similar effects for Latinx students and students of other races and ethnicities when taught by teachers who share their background, research is limited, partly due to small sample sizes for teachers of color who are not Black.