Calling All Students of Color: Your Country Needs You

By 2050, the majority of the U.S. population may be non-white.1 Consequently, the number of Hispanic/Latinx students will increase. We have seen it already. In 2002, 18 percent of K-12 students were Hispanic and 59 percent were White. In 2012, the percent of Hispanic students increased to 24 while the percentage of White students dropped to 51 percent. And by 2024, it is projected that our K-12 schools will be made up of 29 percent Latino students while White students will drop to 46 percent of the school population. 2 With this rapid change in school enrollment, there is a need to examine how we currently prioritize education in the U.S. and how we need to shift our education priorities, given the continuing population increase of Hispanic students.

Let’s look at the current state of educators:

  1. According to National Center for Education Statistics, the elementary and secondary educator workforce is overwhelmingly homogenous with 82 percent of teachers in public schools are White.
  2. Eighty-four percent of White teachers are working in Urban city schools
  3. Only 20 percent of public school principals are individuals of color.

The facts clearly indicate that we, as a nation, lack teacher diversity, even when student diversity is at an all-time high, and growing.

Having teachers of color is crucial to the success of students of color, specifically those in high poverty schools. For example, teachers of color can be more motivated to work with disadvantaged students of color, tend to have higher academic expectations for their students, and serve as academically successful role models who have a greater understanding of their culture.3

I’ve seen these research findings first-hand. As a native Spanish-speaking child, I went to school in Los Angeles County. I remember encountering only two teachers of color. One of those teachers, incorporated words in Spanish to help me (and my fellow Spanish-speaking classmates) understand what some words meant in English. I was very fortunate for that experience, but that is not often the case for many minority students outside of places like LA.

However, students of color are not the only ones who benefit from teacher diversity. All students do. When teachers reflect the diversity of the student body, all students receive positive exposure to role models of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, which can help reduce stereotypes and even promote cross-cultural social bonding.

This issue extends to the educator pipeline, where teacher retention rates look bleak. The retention rates for teachers of color is lower than their White counterparts (NCES, 2016). They are leaving this profession at a higher rate than others and it is not due to placement, but rather the working conditions in their schools; they often do not feel heard in educational decisions. Even at the start of the educator pipeline, the shift from high school to college, is shrinking meaning less graduates are going to college. From the time Hispanic students’ graduate from high school, only 17 percent enrolled in a postsecondary institution with even fewer pursing a major in Education. Only a portion of those will go to become teachers (NCES, 2016).

As we are seeing the rate of students becoming teachers decrease, it is important to focus on the retention of teachers. A recent policy brief from ACT’s State and Federal Programs found that while teachers are an essential and influential part of student learning, students were not overly interested in pursuing the profession – largely due to the salary teachers earn. Looking at the reasons why students are not going into teaching is key when focusing on recruiting because one can see what postsecondary institutions and school districts can do to work on the increase of teachers of color. The brief provides recommendations to attract and retain teachers such as increasing the salary for beginning teachers, and implementing career pathways.

Furthermore, there are programs that encourage students of color to pursue the field of education. Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Teachers (TSTT) is a “school-based mentoring program that recruits and mentors culturally diverse and economically challenged high school students who are interested in pursuing a career in teaching.” 4 The program currently serves more than 300 high school students and more than 300 college students in 50 high school districts and 21 partnering colleges and universities. Seventy-five percent of the participating students are the first in their families to attend college; 32 percent are Hispanic or Latino; and 47 percent are African-American. In the program, students are recruited and mentored through the beginning of their high school to their college career to teacher education programs-a span totaling eight years. TSTT guides and gives students of color the necessary tools to become teachers, starting as early as their freshmen year in high school. This program is an exemplar that addresses and takes action to help balance the growing enrollment of students from differing racial and ethnic groups.

Innovative programs like TSTT are key to contributing to the increase of teacher diversity.

You can help too, by volunteering to:

be a mentor;

be a volunteer; and/or

donating in support of the work.

Gabriela Flores is ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning summer intern. She recently received her BA in Sociology and Chicanx Studies with a minor in Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She will continue her education at California State University, Northridge as she works to obtain her Master of Arts in Sociology. Gabriela is a first-generation Latina student who plans to go into research in her near future where she will aim to increase the visibility of students of color in higher education.

1. Nguyen, Alcantar, Curammeng, Hernandez, Kim, Paredes, Freeman, Nguyen, H., Teranishi. (2017). The Racial Heterogeneity Project: Invisible Education Equity Gaps. Retrieved from
2. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). Digest of Education Statistics, 2016 (NCES 2017-094), Chapter 3. Retrieved from
3. American Educator 40.3 (2016): 18-19. A Look at Teacher Diversity. Web.
4. TSTT. (n.d.) Retrieved from