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Are minority students more likely to prosper when taught by minority teachers?
Study notes lack of nonwhite teachers and points to strong impact of role models with similar backgrounds in the classroom. - photo by Eric Schulzke
Before we address the racial achievement gap, a number of education experts now argue, we need to address the racial gap in teachers and administrators in the schools.

Noting that a majority of students are now racial or ethnic minorities, while only 18 percent of teachers are, Education Secretary John King argued at Howard University in March that "we have an urgent need to act."

"We have strong evidence that students of color benefit from having teachers and leaders who look like them as role models and also benefit from the classroom dynamics that diversity creates," King said. "But it is also important for our white students to see teachers of color in leadership roles in their classrooms and communities. The question for the nation is how do we address this quickly and thoughtfully?

In a working paper released this week, Brian Kisida of the University of Missouri and Anna Egalite of North Carolina State University offered evidence that the racial matching of students and teachers does have an impact on success.

"Our results are striking," Kisida and Egalite reported in Real Clear Education. "Across a number of different specifications, students who share racial and/or gender characteristics with their teachers tend to report higher levels of personal effort, feeling cared for, student-teacher communication, academic engagement, and college aspirations. We observe the largest and most consistent effects when examining female students paired with female teachers, with particularly strong effects for black female students paired with black female teachers. We also find large effects for black male students assigned to black male teachers."

The Washington-based Albert Shanker Institute recently issued a report on the state of teacher diversity, finding that the heart of the problem lies with teacher attrition, not with recruiting. Minority teachers are leaving the profession at higher rates, the report stated, largely due to poor working conditions and a "lack of a collective voice in educational decisions and lack of professional autonomy in the classroom."

Racial imbalances are especially acute in the charter sector, argued Howard Fuller, the former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools and a professor at Marquette University.

The National Center for Education Stastics reported that in 2013-2014, 57 percent of charter school students were either Hispanic or African-American.

"The one thing that concerns me about the charter movement is that it's the only social movement where the people most impacted don't lead it," Fuller said earlier this spring at a Brookings Institution event in Washington, the Deseret News reported.

"If you look at the largest charter management organizations and the advocacy organizations, they are all run by white people," Fuller said, speaking as the lone African-American on the day's panels, and one of the few in the room. "We have to see that, and we have to see it as a problem."