This article, written by Dave Huber, originally appeared in the College Fix.

Does it matter if teachers aren’t as ‘diverse’ as their students?

According to Atnre Alleyne of the Delaware Campaign for Achievement Now, the answer is “yes.”

As is often the case, unfortunately, Delaware’s largest daily The News Journal offers up a rather superficial analysis in its report on Mr. Alleyne’s campaign for more minority teachers in the First State, providing school-by-school demographics and offering only one side of the debate.

Alleyne says “it’s frustrating” that state statistics for non-white teachers have remained flat for the last few years.

“There’s been a lot of talk about this for a number of years,” he says. “The lack of change in this area is really the first thing that stands out for me.”

Roughly 15% of Delaware’s teachers are non-white, compared to 55% of the student body.

From the story:

Studies show having a diverse teacher workforce can lead to higher levels of student achievement.

Students that have teachers of a similar race or ethnicity got better math and reading scores, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. They also tend to drop out less and go to college more, according to a study by IZA-+Institute of Labor Economics.

“Seeing someone in the building that looks like you, I think that’s empowering for students,” Alleyne said. “Seeing someone who’s intellectual, that’s empowering.”

But the fact of the matter is, at some Delaware schools, people of color may be more likely to work as janitors or food service professionals, Alleyne said, which doesn’t send as good of a message to kids.

When it comes to the school districts trying to increase diversity, “a lot of them have tried and started something and never followed through,” he said. “We haven’t had enough people investing in deep recruitment.”

Some of those efforts should include praising teachers of color more (they need it, Alleyne claims) and giving these teachers the same promotion opportunities as their white counterparts (too many TOC find themselves placed “in the hardest classrooms”).

“It’s not a cute thing or a nice thing to have,” Alleyne says about school/classroom teacher diversity. “It’s a necessity.”

But the research is not as cut and dry as Alleyne and The News Journal make it appear. There are numerous studies out there which find little-to-no association between the race of a teacher and his/her students. Other factors may play a (much) larger role; consider that many inner city schools have high numbers of minority teachers yet suffer poor academic performance.

In addition, Black Enterprise’s Robin White Goode wonders if research showing a positive race association “could be used in less enlightened ways” such as “the poorest kids would get black teachers, but not necessarily good teachers.”

“[Our study] looked at race, period,” [Johns Hopkins’ Nicholas] Papageorge told me when I asked if it was the quality of the teacher that made the difference. But teasing out why black teachers make such a positive difference in the lives of these children is the researcher’s next challenge.

“It may be that these teachers are just better teachers. It may be that they have higher expectations. Teacher expectations matter. They can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It could be the role model effect. Something’s happening. What is it?”

Papageorge also stated that “race isn’t the answer. We’re not saying that.” He acknowledged the many problems low-income boys face and the need to address them but also sees so-called race matching as something that could become part of the policy toolkit.

I also spoke with Ron Walker, the executive director of COSEBOC, or the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color.

Although Walker says he has worked with “qualified white teachers who care,” his preference is for “quality black male teachers who can model intellectual rigor, character, persistence, and grit to dispel any myths that black boys may have seen or heard about black men.”

But Walker also said he would “choose a qualified white teacher over an unqualified black teacher.”

Mr. Walker’s words should be heeded. In state/school district racial bean counters’ haste to make the numbers “look good,” the quality of hires might not be of paramount concern.

Which raises another issue unmentioned by Mr. Alleyne and The News Journal: Other fields are seeking to diversify their work force and thus are competing for qualified non-Caucasians just like education is. And most of these other fields pay better.


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