UWM research spotlights need for teachers of color in schools

January 30, 2020

By: Genaro C. Armas

Curtis Jones, director of UWM’s Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education, hopes a new study will help schools recruit and retain teachers of color.

One of the most important things schools can do for students of color is have teachers of color in their classrooms.

It’s crucial for many reasons, but one of the basic reasons is this: Teachers of color have higher academic expectations for students of color than white teachers do, according to established research.

“At least in part due to those expectations, having at least one experience of having a teacher of color throughout elementary school of the same racial background makes you much more likely to graduate high school on time and go to college,” said Curtis Jones, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s director of the Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education.

Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, finding and keeping these teachers has not been easy. African American and Latinx K-12 teachers in the state are more likely to leave their schools than their white counterparts, according to a new study by UWM education researchers.

The report also found that African American teachers feel lower levels of trust with fellow teachers than white or Latinx teachers, which likely factors into their higher likelihood of leaving. The report, titled Race, Relational Trust, and Teacher Retention in Wisconsin Schools, looks at the intersection of race and trust within schools for possible explanations into the lack of diversity in the public teaching ranks and the challenge of retaining diverse educators.

Jones hopes the results can provide direction to Wisconsin schools to create environments that help recruit and retain teachers of color. Doing so could address Wisconsin’s status as having the nation’s largest achievement gap between black and white students.

Although 9 percent of all Wisconsin students are African American, only 2 percent of Wisconsin teachers and 5 percent of principals are African American, the study found. Similarly, though 12.3 percent of Wisconsin students are Latinx, only 1.9 percent of teachers and 1.4 percent of principals are Latinx.

The statewide numbers are skewed because 71 percent of black teachers and 39 percent of Latinx teachers work in the diverse Milwaukee Public Schools district. Outside of MPS, only 0.6 percent of teachers are African American and 1.3 percent are Latinx.

The study found that, across all teachers, only 58 percent of African American teachers stayed in their school more than two years, compared with 68.9 percent of Latinx teachers and 76.7 percent of white teachers. Among teachers new to public education in 2013-14, only 51.9 percent of African American educators remained in public schools after two years, compared with 63 percent of Latinx and 81.3 percent of whites. Retention rates increased for African American and Latinx teachers over the next four years.

“If you keep them for two years, you’re pretty much keeping them for the long term,” Jones said. “We know that a lot of this is about trust, but what are the things that happened in that school that resulted in less trust?” Jones said that question needs to be studied further, but the report does provide some insight.

The research found that trust among teachers, and between the teaching staff and the principal, is an important factor for retention regardless of race. It also learned that teachers have more trusting relationships with principals from their same racial background.

The study called for school districts to create work environments for educators that promote retention and trust among teachers from diverse backgrounds.

“Students need role models, and seeing a successful person from their own background means a lot,” Jones said. “Parents need to feel like there’s someone that’s advocating for them at the school, and having someone from their cultural background means a lot to them.”