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Teacher Diversity and Student Success: Why Racial Representation Matters in the Classroom

reviewed by Cherrel Miller Dyce - October 18, 2021

coverTitle: Teacher Diversity and Student Success: Why Racial Representation Matters in the Classroom
Author(s): Seth Gershenson, Micheal Hansen, and Constance Lindsay
Publisher: Harvard Education Press, Boston
ISBN: 1682535800, Pages: 206, Year: 2021
Search for book at Amazon.com

“For too long, teacher diversity has been a secondary (at best) focus of teacher policy” (p. 9)…“Like racial and ethnic achievement gaps, the lack of teacher diversity is a problem in nearly all schools and districts throughout the country” (p. 15).

Racial representation matters in the classroom and, as such, should be an important aspect of any comprehensive school and district plan. Gershenson, Hansen, and Lindsay, in Teacher Diversity and Student Success: Why Racial Representation Matters in the Classroom, make the case of why racial representation is essential to equitable and equity-minded teaching as well as the teaching profession overall. Situated in the extant research about race and education, the authors make a clear, evidence-based argument as to why teacher racial identity is essential for student success, education policy, and teacher effectiveness, and is a necessary tool to help close the racial and ethnic achievement gap. This book takes a liberatory approach and centers on race as a crucial variable in the success equation for students of color and all students. In this politically charged environment, where issues of race, systemic racism, and equity are demonized, the authors have quintessentially taken a stand, citing decades of educational research to support the naming, centering, and bearing witness to issues of race in the education system, and more specifically, on the issue of same-race teacher representation in the classroom.

In their introduction, Gershenson, Hansen, and Lindsay provide an analysis and make the case as to why teacher racial representation should be a primary and not secondary consideration in the classroom. They outline why education is attached to life outcomes, the economy, and upward mobility. Most notably, they present data highlighting the decades-old achievement gap between students of color and their White counterparts, as well as data on diversity. The authors also make a clear case why they wrote this book, stating “the research on which this book and our policy prescriptions are based, then, is quite clear: at every level of schooling and in districts throughout the country, no matter how success is measured, students benefit from having instructors who look like them. The finding reaffirms our central thesis: teacher diversity is teacher quality” (p. 12). The final three to four pages of the introduction provide a point-by-point rationale for why the authors wrote this book. Overall, the introduction is clear, convincing, and data-driven, and is a call for action to school districts, policymakers, and legislatures who have for so many years treated teacher diversity and racial representation in the classroom as an asterisk instead of a central variable in the student success equation, especially for students of color. Same-race teacher representation matters.

Chapter 1 is a concrete indicator that the authors are acutely aware that research and subsequent policy and practice about the issue of race often face resistance, denial, and discreditation. Thus, the chapter provides compelling empirical data from states like Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida, outlining why race-match efforts are essential to closing the equity gap for students of color. Furthermore, the authors provide a direct correlation regarding how same-race teacher match improves not only test scores but also graduation and suspension rates, relationship building, attendance, student attitudes about school, and parental involvement. The evidence of the wide array of academic and social factors that are affected positively is also supported with specificity. For example, race-matching seems particularly effective for Black students in terms of how Black teachers communicate messages about the hidden curriculum. Gershenson, Hansen, and Lindsay note that “not only do students perform better on end-of-grade standardized math and reading tests, but nearly every other measurable outcome improves as well: when taught by a same-race teacher, Black and non-white students in particular experience fewer suspensions and behavioral infractions, are more engaged, are less likely to be chronically absent, and find school more fulfilling and their teachers easier to communicate with” (p. 32). The authors also provide in this chapter a discussion of race-matching in higher education and the power of such a strategy in creating change. They also provide evidence from law and medical schools of how race-match as a practice is beneficial not just in K–12 teacher–student relationships but also in higher education. The chapter closes with a discussion and debate over teacher quality, and that such debate should not derail teacher–student race-match efforts, and a call for race-match to be an “observable measure” (p. 39) in assessing teacher quality.  

Chapter 2 continues to expand on why race-match teaching is important by highlighting the power of teacher expectations for students in a school system where students of color may not have the opportunity to be taught by a teacher of their race. The authors’ premise in Chapter 2 is in line with the research of other scholars about the importance of setting high expectations for students. As such, the chapter explores how teacher beliefs, expectations, and biases affect student outcomes, especially in a teacher–student race-match scenario. The authors situate their analysis in a systems perspective, demarcating how stereotypes, bias, and discrimination in the areas of assessment and behavior have plagued the U.S. school system historically and provide examples of the deleterious effects of teacher low expectations. There is power in teachers setting high expectations for their students and race-match, as a strategic intervention, is a proven tool in mitigating stereotypes, biases, and low expectations. The authors are clear that race-match is not a magic bullet and that teachers of color who are matched with students of color do not possess superpowers but do bring a set of culturally competent tools and serve as role models, both of which are beneficial to the way students of color specifically view themselves in the classroom and society at large. They conclude the chapter with a discussion of workforce diversity, showing how same-race teachers positively influence educational outcomes and how White students benefit from diversity, and a call for school districts to reexamine their hiring policies and practices and act to recruit, retain, and support “universal access to teachers of color” (p. 60).      

Chapter 3 is positioned well in the flow of the book, as it provides the reader with a cross-sectional history detailing the systemic ways in which racial and ethnic underrepresentation operate in education. This chapter is nuanced and complex, and rightly centers on the pervasiveness of White ideology and Anglo-Saxon norms as the default position from which American public education was birthed. The authors state “this history of exclusion and segregation, coupled with the disproportionate influence of well-heeled Anglo-Saxon parents, directly influenced who could and would attend school and become teachers from the inception of public schooling in America” (p. 63). A brief history of the experiences of Native Americans, Asian and Latino/x Americans, and Black Americans within the context of Brown v. Board of Education, as well as Black teachers in the workforce, is discussed to show the historical, systematized, and concretized ways in which legislation, policies, and practices support and maintain racism in the education system. Ostensibly, the authors paint a clear road map showing the tentacles of racism and how they influence public schooling currently. In deconstructing the current landscape, they problematize teacher screening and licensure, showing how these practices are racialized and are a barrier to increasing the racial diversity of teachers. The authors close the chapter with data regarding the trends in teacher diversity showing modest growth in Black teachers, a decrease in Native American teachers, a slight jump in Asian and Pacific Islander teachers from 1 percent to 2 percent, and a fourfold increase in Latino/x teachers, making this group the largest teachers of color group currently. Despite some growth across these groups, the pace is still slow and hampered by systematized roadblocks.

In Chapter 4, Gershenson, Hansen, and Lindsay examine the underrepresentation of teachers of color in education and engage the reader in an analysis of factors causing these leaks in the pipeline. It is clear from this chapter that the education system is hemorrhaging young people of color who have the potential to select teaching as a career. For school districts, policymakers, and educator preparation programs wondering how they might center same-race teacher–student match in their policies and practices, this chapter is a necessary resource for articulating recruitment, retention, and support efforts in these organizations. The authors provide no opportunity for educators, policymakers, communities, and other institutions supporting public education to deny this issue, and they center with data and research where the leaks in the pipeline are coming from. They expand on the historical barriers raised in Chapter 3, as well as the contemporary issues in K–20 education. Hence, leaks in the pipeline include graduation rates of students of color from K–12 institutions and their college-going habits, how students of color select and enter the teaching profession, teacher training and alternative certification programs, hiring and placement of teachers of color, and school culture and climate are all barriers to teacher racial diversity.

The focus of Chapter 5 is on teacher quality. This is pivotal, and the authors present a strong supporting argument why same-race teacher-match matters as an issue of teacher quality by leveraging the polarization surrounding the concept of teacher racial diversity or same-race teacher–student match. The authors state, “some might see prioritizing racial diversity among teachers as implicitly denigrating white teachers. This is not our intention. Rather, only by acknowledging that diversity is a dimension of quality can we disrupt the historical and current practices that, whether purposefully or not, define(d) teacher quality with respect to what’s best for white students in a world in which whites are privileged” (p. 104). Essentially, racial diversity is a part of teacher quality. The authors suggest that when prioritizing why teacher racial diversity matters, advocates for the strategy should seek to build a coalition, be aware of other types of diversity needs in the classroom, and be aware of the legal challenges of policies and practices supporting same-race teacher–student match for students of color.

The final two chapters, 6 and 7, are loaded with strategies and action steps. These chapters present a set of remarkable tools for school districts, state legislatures, policymakers, and educator preparation programs to address teacher diversity and close the achievement and equity gap for students of color. The authors suggest three strategies to increase teacher diversity: (a) policies that diversify the teaching profession, (b) policies that increase access to existing teachers and role models of color, and (c) policies that better prepare or retrain teachers. Grow-your-own programs like the Boston Teacher Residency Program; programs such as Profound Gentleman, providing experience in a variety of school types for principals of color; and ongoing culturally relevant professional development for White teachers are all part of the suite of strategies offered by the authors to address the lack of teacher racial diversity in America’s public schools. Chapter 7 is a call to action and is a fitting conclusion for such a powerful book that unapologetically bears witness to research on the importance of racial representation, why it matters, what we need to do about it, and why we can no longer wait to take action.

This social justice and equity-minded text is a timely, critical, and powerful tool for all who aim to increase teacher racial representation in the quest for educational equity. It is a game-changer, as it serves as a central hub for research, policies, and practices related to same-race teacher–student match. This is a must-have resource for all public school districts, educator preparation programs, policymakers, legislatures, and others who truly want to see justice and equity-oriented change in education.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 18, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23874, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 11:39:29 PM

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About the Author
  • Cherrel Miller Dyce
    Elon University
    E-mail Author
    CHERREL MILLER DYCE, Ph.D., is an associate professor and executive director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the School of Education at Elon University. With twenty years of experience in social justice work, she is a fierce social justice advocate, K-20 researcher, mentor, and social theorist. Dr. Dyce believes in uplifting marginalized communities through education. She emphasizes racial equity, social justice, and critical self-reflection in all research projects. Dr. Dyce is a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant who provides professional development in the areas of racial equity for public and charter schools, higher education institutions, and private organizations. She has published many journal articles and two books. Her recent co-authored book is Black Males Matter: A Blueprint for Creating School and Classroom Environments to Support Their Academic and Social Development.
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