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Staffed Up: How would an affirmative action repeal impact teacher diversity?

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If the U.S. Supreme Court repeals race-conscious admissions — a decision expected to drop in late June — some higher education experts fear a worsening of the already disproportionate representation of teachers of color in K-12 schools. 

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in October for the two cases weighing affirmative action’s fate, stemming from lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over the institutions’ race-conscious admissions practices. Should the conservative-majority Supreme Court rule to cease considering race in higher ed admissions, as is expected by legal experts, it will end decades of legal precedent.

The most recent available data finds teacher preparation program enrollees were underrepresented across multiple racial backgrounds compared to the K-12 student population in the 2018-19 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education

Among K-12 students, 15% were Black compared to 9.6% of teacher preparation enrollees. The representation gap widened between Hispanic or Latino students and teacher candidates, at 27.5% of K-12 students compared to 14.6% of teacher candidates. There were also more Asian students (5.2%) than teacher candidates (3%), and more students of two or more races (4%) than teacher candidates with a similar background (2.7%). 

At 61.4%, White teacher candidates significantly overrepresented White students, who made up 46.7% of the K-12 student population.

Research shows, however, that employing more teachers of color can provide wide-ranging benefits for students. 

Large, diverse and urban districts saw fewer exclusionary discipline measures for Black and Latinx students when their race matched their teachers, according to a 2021 working paper from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University. Black students are also 7% more likely to graduate high school if they had a teacher of the same race in grades K-3, compared to their peers who did not have a Black teacher, a National Bureau of Economic Research study found.

Ongoing efforts are aiming to ramp up strategies for recruiting and retaining more teachers of color in classrooms, though they come alongside continuing concerns of teacher shortages in districts nationwide. 

‘Making our jobs more difficult’

Efforts to improve representation between teachers and students of color will be further challenged if affirmative action is struck down, said Monika Williams Shealey, board chair of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Such a decision will add another barrier for prospective teachers of color on top of roadblocks they already face like state certification tests, she added.

“It’s making our jobs even more difficult in trying to recruit highly qualified, diverse, talented teachers,” said Shealey, who is also the senior vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at Rowan University in New Jersey. 

Without affirmative action, more selective and smaller educator preparation programs will become less accessible, Shealey said. Those institutions “will definitely feel the sting of not being able to have slots available to students that they otherwise would have if they were able to consider race and ethnicity.”

For less selective schools, many of which are experiencing a decline in enrollment, they will have to “retool” recruitment efforts, Shealey said. While that doesn’t mean these institutions have been providing scholarships based on race, she added colleges have targeted their efforts to offer students of color such resources and explained why they need extra supports.

“If we are moving into a space where race is not a consideration, then I don’t know how we effectively address equity outside of poverty and income,” Shealey said. “What we know for sure is that there are structural barriers that prevent certain students from being able to access equitable education opportunities. So how do we effectively address equity if we’re not considering the historical barriers erected because of race?”

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.


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