Higher Education

How do we stop the exodus of minority teachers?

New report suggests working conditions largely to blame for high turnover

“Panelists discuss how to better distribute teachers across schools at a Thursday LPI conference.

Minority teachers are being driven out of schools by poor working conditions at rates higher than their non-minority colleagues, which only undermines years of recruitment efforts that have targeted minority teachers.

That is the major finding of Minority Teacher Recruitment, Employment, and Retention: 1987 to 2013, a new report by the California-based Learning Policy Institute (LPI). Researchers examined trends in minority teacher recruitment and retention over 25 years and found that the number of Hispanic, black, Asian and Native American teachers has more than doubled since 1987, which is twice the rate of growth for white, non-Hispanic teachers. However, minority teachers are more likely than their non-minority colleagues to work in hard-to-staff schools, and are also more likely to leave those schools or the teaching field overall.

Richard Ingersoll, one of the authors of the report and a Professor of Education and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, said the increase in minority teachers despite the high quit rate means recruitment efforts have been a success. “If we could just improve the retention, we could increase the size of the minority teaching force all the faster,” Ingersoll added.

Related: How can states better support and keep new teachers?

According to the report, poor working conditions, including a lack of instructional autonomy and faculty input in making decisions at schools are two of the largest factors that contribute to minority teachers leaving. More than half of the 56,000 minority teachers who left the profession during the 2004-05 school year reported job dissatisfaction or a new job or career as the reason for leaving, according to federal data.

“There’s been a move toward micromanaging,” Ingersoll said. “Not just requiring teachers to get their students from ‘a to b,’ but also telling them how to get their students from ‘a to b. This is a leading complaint… this decreasing amount of leeway and discretion within the classroom.”

The report comes at a time when the minority student population has increased substantially, resulting in a majority-minority student population in the nation’s schools. Experts say that means there is even more of a need for minority teachers, who may be better able to understand and relate to non-white students, as well as provide exposure to non-white role models for white students. Some experts worry that new exams for teachers will make it even harder for minority teacher candidates to earn a teaching certification, due in part to the additional time and money these exams require.

Related: Teacher prep fails to prepare educators for diversity, child trauma, panel says

The authors of the report suggest that rather than focusing on costly reforms like raising teacher salaries, schools should attempt to retain minority teachers by improving working conditions, such as giving teachers more autonomy in the classroom, providing more supplies and resources, and giving faculty members more of a say in school-wide decisions.

The findings of this report, as well as another newly released report by the LPI on teacher shortages, will be the topic of a Washington-based conference on Thursday. Check back here for updates, more analysis of the data, and reactions to the report, and follow @hechingerreport for coverage of the sessions.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Teacher Preparation.

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Jackie Mader

Jackie Mader is multimedia editor. She has covered preK-12 education and teacher preparation nationwide, with a focus on the rural south. Her work has appeared… See Archive

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