Study: Disparities between students, teachers of color have grown wider in past decade

Empty classroom desks

MADISON, Wis. — A new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum shows that the disparities between Wisconsin’s increasingly diverse K-12 student population and the state’s lack of diversity in the teacher workforce have grown wider over the past decade.

The study, titled “A Teacher Who Looks Like Me: Examining racial diversity in Wisconsin’s teacher workforce and the student-to-teacher pipeline,” examined the relationship between teachers of color in schools and the likelihood that students of color go on to pursue a career in education.

According to the report’s summary, disparities between the number of students and teachers of color “have huge implications for racial equity, workforce needs across the state, and efforts to reduce educational achievement gaps.”

From 2009 to 2019, the gap between students and teachers of color grew from roughly 19 percentage points in to 25 points.

According to the study, the number of public K-12 students of color increased by roughly 58,000 students between 2009 and 2019. In 2009 students of color accounted for 23.6% of the state’s student population compared to accounting for 30.7% of the student body in 2019.

Meanwhile, while the number of teachers of color increased by 22.5%, teachers of color still only account for 5.6% of Wisconsin’s teacher workforce.

Teachers And Students Of Color In Wisconsin

Graph courtesy of the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s report

According to the study, students of color have a growing presence in classrooms around the state. While cities have seen the highest increase in enrollment from students of color, suburbs, towns and rural areas have also seen their numbers grow.

The study also found that while cities have the highest percentage of students of color, those districts also have the highest disparity between students and teachers of color.

Wisconsin Teachers And Students Of Color By Locale

Graph courtesy of the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s report

The study cites research that suggests having teachers who represent a school’s student population is more likely to promote academic success for students of color. Seeing teachers who look like them in the classroom can also help support the aspirations of students of color, according to the report.

While the percentage of students of color enrolled at each major educational milestone has increased, there are still issues to address.

Data show that as students of color progress through the educational system, their percentage as part of the entire student population drops off with each new milestone — a trend that the report’s author said helps put Wisconsin’s percentage of teachers of color into perspective.

“The fact that teachers of color comprise only 5.6% of the teacher workforce in 2019 is more readily understandable when considering these drop-offs at each milestone in the pathway” report author Anne Chapman said.

People Of Color By Education Level Over Time In Wisconsin (percent Of Total)

Graph courtesy of the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s report

According to the study, the benefits of having representation in the classroom vary depending on a variety of factors, but research still points toward a range of positive outcomes. Increased student engagement, fewer discipline referrals, greater access to challenging coursework, more developed social emotional skills and greater long-term educational success are all among potential benefits, the study said.

More reports exploring policy options to improve teacher diversity throughout Wisconsin are expected in the future.

The study was funded by grants from the Argosy Foundation and Herzfeld Foundation alongside support from the Forum’s education research agenda from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and Northwestern Mutual Foundation, according to a news release.

The report was released during a time largely defined by national conversations about inequity throughout the country’s institutions, including education. On Monday, the Madison Metropolitan School District Board voted unanimously to eliminate the district’s contract with the Madison Police Department.

In addition to the report, the Wisconsin Policy Forum shared an interactive graph to highlight key trends in the Milwaukee and Madison school districts. It is available below.

The full report is available here.