University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Are Arkansas Teachers Too White?

In The View from the OEP on March 27, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Okay- that’s a provocative question, but here at OEP we have been thinking a lot about the diversity of the educator workforce in Arkansas (and will be digging into many aspects of the teacher pipeline in our upcoming conference– be sure to register).

Did you know that nearly all of Arkansas’ teachers are white? It’s true! In the 2016-17 school year, over 91% of teachers in Arkansas schools indicated that they considered themselves white.

And we are concerned because over a third of Arkansas students are non-white, and research shows that minority students can benefit from having a teacher of their same race, particularly economically disadvantaged black students.  Long-run impacts of having a demographically-matched teacher in grades 3, 4, or 5 include a significant reduction in the probability that the students drops out of high school, and an increase in aspirations to attend a four-year college.

So while we hope Arkansas teachers look like this picture on the ADE website …

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 9.55.28 AM

… almost all Arkansas teachers are white, like our Teacher of the Year Courtney Cochran!  courtney

While Courtney is a great and culturally responsive teacher (who will be speaking at the OEP conference), it is concerning that Arkansas’ minority students are unlikely to encounter teachers that are racial role models. Figure 1, below, highlights the racial imbalance between Arkansas students and their teachers.

Figure 1: Arkansas students and teachers by race, 2016-17.


As can be seen in the figure, 13% of Arkansas students are Hispanic, but less than 1% of our teachers are.  Twenty percent of students are black, but black teachers comprise only 7% of the teaching workforce.  Although only 62% of students are white, over 91% of Arkansas teachers are white.

Looking at the diversity gap as the difference between student and teacher population percentages is one method for quantifying the problem, but a recent article used alternative approaches.  Because we know that student populations are typically more diverse than the adult population, the researchers suggest that comparing demographic representation between teacher and student populations is unfair, and a better comparison for appropriate representation among teachers would be the adult population in the state.  Figure 2 expands on the prior figure by include the racial breakdown of Arkansas’ adult working population (ages 21-61).

Figure 2: Arkansas students, teachers, and adults by race, 2016-17.


As represented in the figure, Arkansas teachers are far less likely to be Hispanic and black than the adult working population as a whole.  Although 6% of the adult population identified as Hispanic, less than one percent of teachers do so, and while 16% of adults in the state are black, only 7% of our teachers are.

Since teachers are not representative of students or adults, we definitely need to attract and retain more diverse teachers!

Arkansas isn’t the only state facing a lack of teacher diversity while also facing concerns about a shortage of qualified teachers overall. Some states have been attempting to solve both problems simultaneously, by creating incentives for recruitment and retention of teachers of color, but a recent report indicates that the lack of minority representation among the teacher workforce and teacher shortages do not seem to be closely related, so we should not assume that addressing one problem would implicitly fix the other.

What Can Districts Do?

While the state is working to address the issues from a broader perspective, districts can take specific actions that may help diversify their teacher workforce.  A new analysis found a strong association between workforce diversity and incentive policies that may be particularly attractive for minority teachers.

The researchers considered a variety of incentives including recruitment tools and those intended to reward specific types of teachers.

  • Recruitment incentives included: signing bonuses, student loan forgiveness, funds to assist with relocation expenses, and finder’s fees to existing district staff for referring those hired as new teachers.
  • Reward incentives included: bonuses for obtaining National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification, demonstrating excellence in teaching (aka Merit Pay), teaching in schools in “less desirable” locations, or filling positions in fields or subject areas experiencing shortage.

Specific incentives do seem to make a difference in attracting minority teachers. Offering relocation assistance appeared to be the strongest predictor of a more diverse teacher workforce, followed closely by loan forgiveness, bonuses for excellence in teaching, and teaching in less desirable locations. The researchers suggest that these incentives are motivating to minority teachers because they are significantly more likely to have higher balances on student loans, and so are more cost constrained.

Nearly half of Arkansas districts offer some type of teacher incentive, according to an OEP survey conducted last spring. Compared to the national data, Arkansas districts were less likely to offer relocation assistance or Merit Pay, but much more likely to offer loan forgiveness as an incentive.  An interesting finding, however, was that although many districts were offering incentives to teachers, fewer than half advertised the incentives to prospective teachers. Getting the information to prospective teachers would be a great way to leverage the incentives being offered.

Come Learn More!  We are looking forward to learning more about increasing diversity in our teacher pipeline at the OEP conference April 24th and hope you will join us to share your thoughts. District leaders, teacher preparation programs, Courtney Cochran (Arkansas Teacher of the Year), and ADE staff will join OEP and our national speakers to consider Arkansas’ Teacher Pipeline: What we know, what we are doing, and what more we could be doing.





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