by Dr. Kai Mathews, CA Educator Diversity Project Director
In 2014, we in the K-12 community rounded a significant corner in this ongoing experiment we call compulsory education. That year, for the first time, the combined enrollment of Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian students surpassed that of White students. Our K-12 student population was, and still is, majority non-white, a statistic that is only expected to grow over the next few decades. In fact, by 2024, students of color are expected to make up 56% of the US student population.
In a predictable twist of karma, the students who have been historically under-served and marginalized by schools are now the majority. Though our diverse student population has catalyzed a national conversation around racial literacy and cultural competency, we have yet to confront the moral imperative: addressing the inequities and racism at play within K-12 education. Even with the proliferation of efforts geared toward DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) the K-12 system and people of color are far from reconciliation. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the diversity gap that exists in our educator workforce. Less than 1 in 5 educators in the US identify as a person of color, which means the diversity present in our student population is not reflected in our adult labor force.
In California, students of color represent approximately 77% of our K-12 population, in contrast teachers of color represent only 37% of the teaching force, a statistic with which I am personally familiar. I have been the only black teacher (the only black person, in fact) at a school site. Not having a representative sample of racially diverse adults with decision-making power is a disservice to the students and larger learning community. Diverse educators bring with them diverse ideas, perspectives, practices, beliefs, and values that can enrich and expand the culture of the school and its ability to adequately accommodate and foster the diversity within its own student population.
There are multiple factors preventing individuals of color from becoming educators, which is unfortunate, given the mass amount of research indicating that students of color benefit from having teachers of color. One factor definitively shaping our talent pool is our educator pipeline. The pipeline is a system that spans from grade school to retirement, a complex network of organizations, stakeholders, and rules of engagement.
And like every system, it is designed to get the results that it gets. Meaning the diversity gap we see within our educator workforce is actually an indicator that our pipeline may be inequitably designed. Whether it be statewide policies, recruitment tactics, or something deeper, the process of developing educators has produced inequitable outcomes.
Over the next two years, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools (CTS) will be leading research examining equity gaps and missed opportunities across the educator pipeline for diverse individuals, specifically people of color. In collaboration with educators, students, researchers, and higher education leaders, the California Educator Diversity Project will highlight promising models as well as provide policy and practice recommendations to increase racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity of educators in California and across the nation.
Only by examining and fortifying the pipeline with all of its challenges, opportunities, and culture can we, in earnest, strive toward addressing the educator diversity gap. Doing so will require us to continuously interrogate our policies, practices, and the very ethos that underpins our ways of operating. It can no longer be optional.
We owe it to ourselves and our students to rethink how we maintain and expand our educator workforce. As one of the most diverse states in the country, California can and should be leading the way. Preparing and hiring more educators of color is absolutely possible if lawmakers, educators, and all of us rise to meet this moment.
Dr. Mathews is the CA Educator Diversity Project Director at the Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA. She is an educator, researcher, and creative strategist who is passionate about innovative reforms and practices in K-12 education. She has over 10 years of practical work and research experience with students, teachers, and administrators in various school districts around the country. Most notably she has worked as a Coordinator for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), was a researcher for the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education, and worked as an 8th grade Humanities teacher at High Tech High in San Diego. Her areas of expertise and passion include educational equity, culturally responsive teaching and learning, Project Based Learning (PBL), Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Blended Learning (BL) and design thinking. Dr. Mathews has a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies with a specialization in K-12 education from the University of San Diego, an M.A. in Communication from Ellis University, and a B.A. in English with a minor in Creative Writing from Spelman College.