teacher trends

Is the number of teachers of color skyrocketing or stagnating? Here’s what the numbers really say

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Ishmael Hall, an aspiring teacher who is part of a new program called NYC Men Teach.

A recent report offered a surprisingly rosy picture of the state of teacher diversity. The number of teachers of color in public schools, it noted, had more than doubled over the last three decades.

“Our findings are different than the conventional wisdom,” Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the authors of the research, told Chalkbeat. Teacher diversity still doesn’t mirror student diversity, he acknowledged. But “there is sort of an unheralded victory,” he said.

You may be getting whiplash. Isn’t the teaching profession overwhelmingly white? Hasn’t progress been modest, at best?

Here’s what you should know about the demographics of America’s teaching force, and how to make sense of these competing narratives.

Teachers of color are still a small share of the teaching force.

Here are the basic numbers, based on federal data: In 1987, about 87 percent of public school teachers were white. In the 2015-16 school year, just over 80 percent of teachers were white.

During that same time period, the raw number of teachers of color went from 305,000 out of well over 2 million teachers to about 760,000 out of nearly 4 million teachers.

(In all cases, we’re referring only to public school teachers, and not counting those at private schools.)

That means there are a few ways to frame the exact same data: You could emphasize, as Ingersoll does, that the number of teachers of color has increased by 150 percent in nearly three decades. But you could also say that the share of teachers of color has increased only 7 percentage points during that time.

Both are accurate, though they suggest very different stories.

The 150 percent increase looks so large in part because there were few teachers of color to begin with. It’s also focusing on the raw numbers at a time when total number of teachers has ballooned.

That means the raw increase doesn’t translate to teachers of color making up much more of the profession. The teaching force remains overwhelmingly white, even as about half of the students attending public schools in the U.S. are students of color.

One other note: Ingersoll’s report actually states that the increase in teachers of color was 162 percent, not 150 percent. After Chalkbeat pointed out an inconsistency in the data, Ingersoll recalculated the numbers to reach 150 percent. He says the error was due to a discrepancy in an older federal report.

Graphic: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

The statistics are particularly grim for black teachers.

Between 1987 and 2015, the number of black teachers increased from around 191,000 to 256,000. But the share of teachers who are black has actually declined, from 8.2 percent to 6.7 percent. That’s possible, again, because the teaching corps as a whole has grown significantly during that same period, outpacing the increase in students.

One reason that matters? A great deal of research showing how teachers of color benefit students of color has focused specifically on black teachers of black students.

These trends haven’t played out the same way for all teachers of color. Over that same period, the number and the share of Hispanic teachers have both grown substantially, jumping from 69,000 to 338,000 and from 3 to 8.8 percent of the total teaching force.

Why has the progress, in terms of increasing the share of non-white teachers, been so modest?

Ingersoll documents that teachers of color have particularly high turnover rates, and shows that largely a function of where they work: in segregated schools that have particularly high attrition rates. That’s in line with other detailed research out of North Carolina.

Additional expectations of teachers of color — such as black men being tasked with serving as disciplinarians — also may contribute to burnout.

Other possible explanations include certification processes that disproportionately screen out prospective teachers of color; the stagnation in teacher salaries over a similar period; and schools of education that may not prioritize recruiting students of color.

Future of Teaching

Tentative contract includes big raises for IPS teachers

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Teachers would receive significant raises under a tentative new contract with IPS.

A month after voters approved a vast funding increase for Indianapolis Public Schools, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration and the district teachers union have reached a tentative deal for a new contract that would boost teacher pay by an average of 6.3 percent.

The agreement was ratified by union members Wednesday, according to a statement from teachers union president Ronald Swann. It must be approved by the Indianapolis Public Schools board, which is likely to consider the contract next week, before it is final.

Swann did not provide details of the agreement, but it was outlined in union presentations to teachers on Wednesday ahead of the ratification vote. The deal would cover the 2018-19 school year, and teachers would receive retroactive pay back to July 2018. The prior contract ended in June.

Raising teacher pay was a key part of the sales pitch district leaders used to win support for a referendum to raise $220 million over eight years from taxpayers for operating expenses. The referendum passed with wide support from voters last month, and although the district will not get that money until next year, the administration can now bank on an influx of cash in June 2019. Teachers could receive another raise next year, once the money from the referendum begins flowing.

The proposed deal would bring pay raises for new and experienced teachers. First year teachers in the district would see their salaries jump to $42,587, about $2,600 above the current base salary, according to the presentation to teachers. Returning teachers would move up the pay scale, with most receiving raises of about $2,600.

The deal also brings a reward for teachers who are at the top of the current scale. The top of the scale would rise to $74,920 by adding several stops above the current maximum of $59,400. That means teachers who are currently at the top of the scale would be able to move up and continue getting raises.

Many longtime teachers in the district also earn additional pay for advanced education, but teachers who joined the district more recently are not eligible for that extra money.

Teachers who received evaluations of ineffective or needs improvement in 2017-18 are not eligible for raises.

The new contract is the second time in recent years that teachers have won substantial raises in Indianapolis Public Schools. After four years of painful pay freezes, Ferebee negotiated a contract in 2015 that included a large pay increase. Teacher pay is especially important for the district because it is competing with several surrounding communities to staff schools.

Health care costs would go up this year, a policy shift that was advocated by the Indy Chamber, which urged the district to reduce health insurance spending as part of a plan to shift more money to teacher salaries.

The contract includes a provision that was piloted last year allowing the district to place newly hired teachers at anywhere on the salary schedule. It’s designed to allow the district to pay more for especially hard-to-fill positions.

Teachers at some troubled schools, known as the transformation zone, would also be eligible for extra pay on top of their regular salaries at the discretion of the administration. That money would come from state grants specifically targeted at transformation zone schools.

The idea of allowing superintendents to pay some teachers in their districts more than others is controversial.

Teacher Pay

‘Our teachers have waited long enough’: Educators say Indiana needs to act now on teacher pay

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in Decatur Township work on physics problems with their teacher.

Educators and advocates are pushing state leaders to take action this year to raise teacher compensation — not to wait for additional research, as Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed last week.

“Our teachers have waited long enough,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “It doesn’t take a two-year study to discover what we already know: teachers need to be valued, respected, and paid as professionals.”

Holcomb’s proposal last week to study raises in the upcoming budget-writing session and make bigger steps in 2021 didn’t sit well with some, since lawmakers and advocates spent the fall talking up the need to make teacher salaries competitive with other states. But given the state’s tight budget situation, Holcomb suggested studying the impact of raises for at least a year, as well as looking at how much money would be needed and how districts would be expected to get the money to teachers.

Read: Raising teacher pay likely to be at the forefront for Indiana lawmakers and advocates in 2019

The proposal drew quick criticism. Education leaders and advocacy groups took to Twitter to express their hopes that Holcomb and lawmakers would find ways to address teacher salaries this year as well as into the future.

“IN must respond now,” State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick tweeted Friday morning, remarking that too many teachers across the state are leaving the profession because pay is too low. “Kids deserve & depend upon excellent teachers.”

“We can’t wait to act because Hoosier children are counting on all us to come together to ensure our schools can attract and retain the best teachers,” Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana, said in a blog post titled “The time to act on teacher pay is now.

ISTA’s 2019 legislative agenda, released Monday, will continue pushing for lawmakers and state leaders to find creative solutions to raise teacher pay and make Indiana competitive with other states.

And ISTA says they might have voters on their side. A recent ISTA poll of more than 600 Hoosiers, conducted by Emma White Research, shows that funding for education is a priority across the state, with more than 86 percent of those sampled supporting sending more money to public schools. About 72 percent of people polled believe educators are underpaid.

But it’s unclear if there would be enough money in the budget to spend on across-the-board raises after other funding obligations are met, such as funding needed by the Department of Child Services to deal with effects of the state’s opioid crisis. Senate Democrats have called for $81 million a year to ensure 5 percent raises for teachers and counselors over the next two years. Republicans have strong majorities in both chambers.

Neither ISTA, lawmakers, Holcomb nor other education groups have released specific plans for either how much they’d like to see set aside for teachers or strategies for how a pay increase could feasibly be carried out. However, the effort has brought together some unlikely allies — the union, a vocal advocate for traditional public schools, rarely aligns its education policy with groups like Stand and Teach Plus Indiana that have favored increased school-choice options, such as charter schools.

With limited dollars to go around, the focus will have to also be on how to make existing education dollars go farther, Meredith said. She, along with Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma last month, pointed to the need to curtail spending on administration, which, they argue, could free up money for other expenses such as teacher compensation.

Some have also pointed to the state’s recent budget surplus and reserves as evidence that Indiana could spend more on education if there was political will to do so.

“The surplus has come on the backs of educators and their students,” Meredith said. “Elected leaders must do more. They must do more to declare teacher pay a priority in this session, and they must take action.”

ISTA is also hoping lawmakers will act to:

  • Restore collective bargaining rights so educators can negotiate work hours and class size, as well as salaries and benefits.
  • Remove teacher evaluation results from decisions about salary until the state’s new ILEARN test has been in place for a few years.
  • Invest in school counselors, psychologists, and social workers
  • Strengthen regulations for charter and virtual charter schools, including putting a moratorium on new virtual schools until those safeguards can be enacted.
  • Study districts that have focused on how to best teach students who have experienced trauma.

Indiana’s next legislative session begins in January.

Correction: Dec. 11, 2018: This story has been updated to reflect that Stand for Children Indiana doesn’t take a position in regards to private school vouchers.