Teacher helping students in school classroom. Horizontally framed shot.

A new report by the U.S. Department of Education shows that educator diversity is not keeping up with demographic changes among public school students.

According to findings in “The State of Racial Diversity In the Educator Workforce,” elementary and secondary public school teachers and principals are overwhelmingly White (82 percent in the 2011-2012 school year.) While the figure signals an increase in diversity over a 25-year period (in the 1987-1988 school year Whites composed 87 percent of the educator workforce), the proportion of teacher representing certain racial and ethnic groups—African-American teachers, for example—actually diminished over the half-century period.

Additionally, the progress is almost negligible given the concurrent explosion in the number of non-White students. In the 2011-2012 school year, for example, while White teachers represented 82 percent of elementary and secondary public school educators, 49 percent of students were children of color. And, that imbalance is likely to increase even more as the National Center for Education Statistics predicts that from 2012 to 2024, White representation among the nation’s public school student body will drop from 51 percent to 46 percent.

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The racial disparity is also evident at the teacher training level, the report shows. Both the percentage of those who enrolled in teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities and the percentage of those who graduated after six years were overwhelmingly White. In the 2012-13 academic year, for example, only 25 percent of the enrollments were students of color. And, while the six-year college graduation rate for students who majored in education is 73 percent, for Black students majoring in education, the college graduation rate is 42 percent.

“Without question, when the majority of students in public schools are students of color and only 18 percent of our teachers are teachers of color, we have an urgent need to act,” said Education Secretary John B. King Jr., speaking at Howard University on March 8.

Research shows that diversity in schools, including racial diversity among teachers, can provide significant social and educational benefits to students.

“Teachers of color are positive role models for all students in breaking down negative stereotypes and preparing students to live and work in a multiracial society. A more diverse teacher workforce can also supplement training in the culturally sensitive teaching practices most effective with today’s student populations,” the researchers wrote in the report. “In addition to providing social advantages for all students, the racial diversity of the teaching workforce can help to close the achievement gap, emerging research suggests. Both quantitative and qualitative studies find that teachers of color can improve the school experiences of all students; further, teachers of color contribute to improved academic outcomes while serving as strong role models for students.”