America Needs More Teachers of Color and a More Selective Teaching Profession

From Center for American Progress

By Lisette Partelow, Angie Spong, Catherine Brown, and Stephenie Johnson


For the past three decades, two concerns have dominated the national conversation about the teaching workforce: diversity and talent. The teaching profession is not as racially diverse as it needs to be. In most states, there is a large and growing gap between the percentage of students of color(1) and the percentage of teachers of color.(2) Efforts to increase teacher diversity have led to marginal increases in the percentage of teachers of color—from 12 percent to 17 percent from 1987 through 2012—but this positive statistic obscures other troubling facts, such as the decline in the percentage of African American teachers in many large urban districts and the lower retention rates for teachers of color across the country.(3)

Simultaneously, calls for raising the bar for entry into the U.S. teaching profession have grown more numerous in recent years, in part because of the nation’s middling results compared with other educational systems around the world. On the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment—an international study of 15-year-old students’ knowledge and skills—the United States placed 35th in mathematics, 24th in reading, and 25th in science.(4) Many countries—such as Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea—have outperformed the United States on the assessment for years, while others—including Poland and Germany—have caught up to and surpassed the United States’ scores more recently.(5) Countries such as Canada are high-performing due in part to their focus on teacher quality; countries such as Poland have improved their scores by focusing on the quality of the teacher workforce, which in turn influences the quality of instruction that students experience in the classroom. What all of these countries have in common is an intense focus on the quality of the teacher workforce, which in turn positively influences student achievement.(6)

Margot McMahon