How the Teacher Diversity Gap is Literally Inherited
Today’s Diversity Highlight covers a topic that has gained more and more attention in recent years, yet remains a pervasive issue in school across America. The “teacher diversity gap”–the disparity between demographic characteristics of teachers and the students they instruct–is an issue that goes much further than the superficial differences in race and gender. It is a nuanced, complex matter that has shown to predict a number of student and educational outcomes. In this Highlight, I will discuss a piece that was published by the Brookings Institute that uses data to explain how this issue began, why it is an important issue to tackle, and how we need to approach this issue in the future.
To better understand the underlying processes of the teacher diversity gap, we must first look at teachers. Specifically, let’s focus on who they are and, surprisingly, who their parents are. The Brookings Institute has been collecting data on teachers for decades now, and when looking back they have found an interesting trend regarding the heritability of the teaching profession. According to their data of high school graduates in the late 1970s to early 1980s, the children of teachers are more than twice as likely to become teachers themselves compared to other children. They also found specific trends regarding race within these data, including how this heritability is especially strong in sons and daughters of White teachers and daughters of Black teachers, and how it is strongest in daughters of Hispanic teachers. However, the data shows no relationship between Black sons and their teacher parent(s), the only demographic group to not follow this trend. Furthermore, when examining the racial framework of our teaching workforce, we see a relatively stagnant trend of about 80% White and mostly female teachers over the past few decades. When comparing these data to that of our students, we see that rates of students-of-color has risen from 30% to now nearly 50% in the last few decades. So, while the racial characteristics of our students have continued to shift, those of their teachers have not.
With the disparity in racial match between teachers and students enduring, how is it that this came to be? There is no direct conclusion to be made, but those at the Brookings Institute have an idea. One possibility is that teaching may just be a “family business,” where children of teachers are more inclined to follow in their parent’s professional footsteps. This would help explain the high rates of White teachers, as White teachers are having white children. Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth support this idea of transmission, as children with teacher mothers are 110% more likely to become teachers themselves, compared to families of similar professions like social work, counseling, and nursing; furthermore, a similar trend of transmission was found with teacher fathers.
Explaining these trends is more difficult without the necessary data from the NLSY study, but the authors provide a few theories as to why teaching is so inherited. They believe that having a teacher parent not only opens the door in terms of access to resources, support and job opportunities, but these parents may also be acting as an exemplar, either actively or passively, regarding the attractiveness and positive aspects of becoming a teacher. They also posit that the transmission of certain personality and individual difference factors, such as altruism, extraversion, and comfort with children, from parent to child may also be at play. In all, the authors believe that it may be a collection of these and potentially other unidentified social factors that contribute to these trends.
Knowing these data, it is also important to understand the effects that these trends are having in schools. The body of research is very clear on this matter: when students are taught by teachers who are the same race as them, student outcomes soar. Attendance in class, behavior at school, achievement in grades, even high school graduation and college enrollment have all been shown to improve when teachers look like the students they educate. When students have teachers that “look like [them],” they feel more comfortable in the learning environment, more connected to the instructor, and more motivated to do well.
The conclusions of these data and this article are in no way criticizing our current workforce of teachers, nor the hard work and care that they show their students. And with teaching shortages already hampering school districts, we need teachers now more than ever to help effectively educate our children. However, this article does shine light on a lack of consensus of how and who we recruit into the profession going forward. The closing of the article makes a fantastic point: we are aware of these trends of heritability and how our teaching workforce has become a sort of “family business;” thus future research and efforts should take note of these trends. Thankfully, our and other colleges of education around the country have already began making such efforts. In 2016, our College of Education founded the university’s chapter of Call Me MISTER (“Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models”), a program that seeks to recruit and support men-of-color in the teaching profession. K-State and the 20+ other schools across the country participating in this initiative have identified the positive outcomes of students having teachers that “look like them” and they are taking steps to diversity the workforce.
After reviewing what the teacher diversity gap is, how we got here, and why the teaching profession is so inheritable, I have a few questions to consider going forward. Do you know any families that have multiple generations of teachers? If so, why do you think their children followed in their parent’s professional footsteps? Was it similar to one of the reasons discussed above, or do you think there were other factors involved? Besides awesome programs like Call Me MISTER, what other ways should school districts recruit teachers from diverse backgrounds? What would you say to people of diverse backgrounds to encourage them to consider the teaching profession?
Upcoming Holidays and Observances
Month of May: Asian Pacific American and Jewish American Heritage Month
- Both sponsored by the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and other federal organizations, we celebrate the heritages and impacts of Asian-Pacific- and Jewish-Americans. Asian Pacific American Heritage month has been celebrated since 1977, and this year’s theme is titled “Celebrate! Where Asia Meets America.” Jewish American Heritage Month has been formally celebrated since 2006, and this year’s observance highlights a collection of music written and conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
Monday, May 4–Tuesday, June 6, 2019: Ramadan (Islamic Observance)
- Ramadan, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is a month-long observance marked by day-long fasting. The month is considered one of the holiest months of the Muslim calendar, and followers engage in religious celebrations, immersive readings of the Quran, and giving thanks to Allah. Along with these activities, Muslims also try their best to curb all negative emotions in hopes of being the best Muslim they can be.
References for this Month's Highlights:
- “The Teacher Diversity Gap is Literally Inherited” – Seth Gerchenson & Alberto Jacinto, via The Brookings Institute
- “Asian Pacific American Heritage Month” via Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
- “Jewish American Heritage Month” via Jewish American Heritage Month
- “Remembrance Day Calendar” via the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- “Ramadan 2019,” via Islamic Finder