White teachers are the norm

Indiana has a teacher diversity problem. This has been an issue for a long time; and even though some school districts have been trying to hire more teachers of color, change comes slowly if at all.

Data from the Indiana Department of Education are discouraging, showing most students are missing out on the experience of learning from diverse teachers.

  • Over 93% of Indiana teachers are white. That compares with 66.4% of students in public and charter schools who are white.
  • Fewer than 4% of teachers are Black, compared with 12.7% of students.
  • Only 1.7% of teachers are Hispanic, compared with 12.8% of students.

And teacher race matters. Studies have found that, for Black students, having a Black teacher in the early grades improves test scores and reduces the likelihood of dropping out. For Black male students, having a Black teacher in the third, fourth or fifth grade increases the chances that they will attend college.

Bar graph of teachers and students by race and ethnicityOne likely reason: Black teachers serve as role models, providing an example of the kind of job and status that comes with education.

Researchers also have shown that Black teachers have higher expectations for Black students and are more likely to recommend them to programs for gifted students. Conversely, white teachers may be more likely to have negative attitudes toward Black students and more likely to refer them for discipline.

The lack of teacher diversity is also harmful for white students. As Andre Perry, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, writes, “Not seeing qualified, competent black folk in positions of authority may reinforce the belief, conscious or unconscious, that black people are less worthy in some way than white people.”

What’s most alarming is the large number of Indiana schools with few or no teachers of color. Two-thirds of school districts employ no Black teachers, for example. The same is true for about a quarter of Indiana’s charter schools.

Students in those districts and schools can go through 13 years of schooling without seeing a Black teacher, let alone having one.

Not surprisingly, Black teachers in Indiana cluster in schools and communities where most students are Black. Gary Community Schools is the only public school district in the state where a majority of teachers (73.5%) are Black.

In Indianapolis, 83.7% of teachers in the 11 Marion County traditional public school districts are white, compared with 31% of students. (The percentage of white teachers is lower in Indianapolis Public Schools and Lawrence Township schools and higher in some other districts).

Urban charter schools have some of the highest percentages of Black teachers. Statewide, 20% of teachers and 39% of students in charter schools are Black. In Catholic and Lutheran schools, nearly 96% of teachers are white and fewer than 1% are Black, according to the state data.

Here is a spreadsheet with data on teacher race and ethnicity.

This summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and marches have made clear that we are at a moment of reckoning regarding race in America. Our attitudes and beliefs take shape, to a large extent, in school: not just by what we are taught but by what we see and experience, including the teachers we encounter.

Far too many Hoosier children are growing up in a world where all first-hand  models of success and authority are white. That’s not good for them, regardless of their race, and it’s not good for the future or our state.

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