Transforming K-12 STEM Education by Diversifying the STEM Teacher Workforce

Posted by Smithsonian Magazine on January 17, 2023

Research points to the importance of a diverse teacher workforce and its impact on students. Learn how educators at the Smithsonian Science Education Center are committed to increasing the number of STEM teachers with diverse backgrounds in education networks nationwide.

The Current State of Educator Diversity

Education is oftentimes the determining factor in a student’s future decisions. What happens in a classroom has a lasting impact on student attitudes toward school and their level of interest in their academic journey. According to a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and American University, “Black students who’d had just one Black teacher by third grade were 13 percent more likely to enroll in college—and those who’d had two were 32 percent more likely.”

Research shows that there is a positive impact on student attitude, motivation, and achievement when their teacher shares the same race/ethnicity. In a 2019 comprehensive research review, Christopher Redding of the University of Florida found that teachers who identify with the Black, Indigenous, or People of Color community also tend to advocate more for students that represent the same community. When students can learn from someone who reflects their values and beliefs, and who shares similar life experiences, they tend to have a more positive outlook on their education. Additionally, in 2019, the National Center for Education Statistics shared that teachers who share similar histories with their students may have more positive expectations of them.

Unfortunately, the current state of the U.S. educator workforce does not reflect the diversity of its student body. Nearly 50% of public school students identify as Black, Indigenous, or a person of color. Yet that diversity is not reflected in the teacher workforce, with 79.3 percent of public school teachers identifying as White. Research clearly indicates that addressing this disparity in student-teacher racial/ethnic matching would have exponential benefits for all students, but particularly students of color.

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