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Minority Teacher Recruitment, Employment, and Retention: 1987 to 2013

By Richard M. Ingersoll Henry May Greg Collins
Minority Teacher Recruitment, Employment, and Retention: 1987 to 2013

Our nation has a dire shortage of minority teachers. Research shows that while the nation’s student population has grown increasingly diverse with regard to race and ethnicity, the opposite is true of the elementary and secondary teacher workforce. This is detrimental to students’ growth and learning. In response, numerous government and non-government organizations have implemented a variety of minority teacher recruitment programs and initiatives in recent decades.

National data show that these recruitment efforts have been successful. The number of minority elementary and secondary teachers has more than doubled since the late 1980s—outpacing growth in both the number of nonminority teachers and the number of minority students. But these increases have been undermined by the high turnover rate of minority teachers, especially male minority teachers, who are more likely to leave their schools than nonminority teachers.

Why do minority teachers leave schools at higher rates? Among the most prominent reasons minority teachers gave for leaving or moving were the desire to obtain a better job or career, or dissatisfaction with some aspect of their teaching job. In particular, minority teachers left at higher rates because the schools in which they were employed—typically those serving high-poverty, high-minority, and urban communities—tended to have less desirable organizational conditions. In contrast, schools that provided more discretion and autonomy to classroom teachers, as well as schools with higher levels of faculty input into school decision-making, had lower levels of minority teacher turnover. Other factors, such as salaries, the provision of professional development, or the availability of classroom resources, had much less association with turnover rates.


What are the implications of these results for the widespread efforts to diversify the teacher workforce? The data indicate that new teacher recruitment strategies alone do not address a major contributor to the minority teacher shortage: turnover. Instead, what is needed are initiatives that also increase retention of minority teachers.

This study’s findings support the view that a school’s organization, management, and leadership affect its ability to retain minority teachers. Changing some conditions, such as teachers’ classroom autonomy and faculty member’s schoolwide influence, appears to be less costly than increasing teachers’ salaries, professional development, or class-size reduction—an important consideration, especially in low-income settings and in periods of budgetary constraint.

Promising examples of schools with high levels of teacher autonomy and decision-making influence have sprung up in recent years in the U.S. For example, there is a growing network of schools that are operated and run by teachers. These schools are often referred to as “partnership schools” because they are modeled after law partnerships, where lawyers both manage, and ultimately are accountable for, the organization and its success. In this approach, the focus of the reform would shift from solely attracting or developing “better people for the job” to also securing “a better job for the people.” The success of these models suggest that rather than simply forcing the existing arrangement to work better, policymakers should treat the root causes of shortages as an organizational and occupational design issue that requires a different arrangement better built for those who do the work of teaching.

Minority Teacher Recruitment, Employment, and Retention: 1987 to 2013 by Richard M. Ingersoll, Henry May, and Greg Collins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Research in this area of work is funded in part by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is provided by the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Sandler Foundation.