Recruiting, Supporting, Retaining: African-American Teachers and the Teacher Shortage

California faces an acute shortage of teachers statewide. The demand for teachers is even greater in school districts with a large number of low-income students and diverse populations. As part of CSBA’s blog series exploring African-American student achievement in honor of African-American History Month, this post looks at the hiring and retaining of African-American teachers.

While public schools are projected to be majority nonwhite by 2020, teachers of color are underrepresented. In California, approximately 68 percent of teachers in the state’s K-12 public schools are white but only 24 percent of students are white. The consequences of this diversity gap are wide-ranging.

“There is strong and growing evidence that African-American students benefit in a number of ways from learning in classrooms with African-American teachers,” a recent CSBA brief on the issue found.

Malika Hollinside, author of the CSBA brief, noted in an interview with California School News that “African-American teachers represent a vital component of the American teaching force. They interact with students in powerful and unique ways that enhance school experiences as well as academic outcomes. Current research shows that black teachers play a particularly important role for black students, positively influencing their success rates and their interest in higher education.”

Unfortunately African-American teachers also leave the teaching field at higher rates than any other ethnic group. According to the CSBA brief, the number of African-American teachers in California has declined significantly in the past 15 years from 5.1 percent to 4 percent. New analysis from California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing also found that African-American teacher candidates are earning low numbers of passing rates across a range of exams. First time CBEST pass rates, for example, for the 2012–2017 cohort was 80.9 percent for white candidates, but only 47.3 percent for African-American candidates.

To change this trend and boost achievement for students of color, new research has examined ways to boost retention of nonwhite teachers. One 2017 study determined that administrative support is key to preventing nonwhite teacher attrition, particularly at schools with small nonwhite populations.

In her CSBA brief, Hollinside outlined additional strategies to better support and retain African-American teachers. She recommended that school leaders:

  • Provide professional development programs based on teacher feedback and needs
  • Make career pathways available to promote African-American teachers to more senior positions with better salaries
  • Train teachers and students to identify and resolve overt and covert racism
  • Invest in recruitment including establishing “grow-your-own” programs and helping streamline credentialing

“School board members must also take action in order to retain California’s black teachers,” Hollinside said. “It is critical that school boards evaluate teacher demographics on state, district and school levels to assess the annual rates of African-American teacher retention and attrition.”

Other Resources

CSBA Resources: African-American Youth
CSBA Brief: African-American Students in Focus: Supporting African-American Teacher Retention (10/17)  

The Education Trust: Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflections From Black Teachers

CityLab: The Benefits of Having a Black Teacher

California Schools Magazine: Storm Brewing: How Districts Are Dealing With the Teacher Shortage Crisis