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The Need for Diversity at the Front of the Classroom

An online teaching degree can give you insight into today’s student needs.

As classrooms grow richer in diversity, research underscores just how critical a diverse teacher workforce is to student success.

“Racial diversity benefits every workforce, and teaching is no exception,” says a report from the Center for American Progress (CAP). “Teachers of color tend to provide more culturally relevant teaching and better understand the situations that students of color may face. These factors help develop trusting teacher-student relationships. Minority teachers can also serve as cultural ambassadors who help students feel more welcome at school or as role models for the potential of students of color.”1


A Diversity Snapshot

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the majority of U.S. public school students in fall 2018 were members of a minority group. Of the recorded 50.7 million students, approximately 26.9 million fell into the following racial/ethnic groups: 13.8 million were Hispanic, 7.7 million were Black, 2.7 million were Asian, 2.1 million were of two or more races, 500,000 were American Indian/Alaska Native, and 186,000 were Pacific Islander. There were 23.8 million white students, according to the tally.2

For comparison, in the 2017–18 school year, the NCES says 79% of teachers were white, 9% Hispanic, 7% Black, 2% Asian, 2% of two or more races, 1% American Indian/Alaska Native, and less than 1% Pacific Islander.3

The Pew Research Center cites another representation gap: “In 2015–16, roughly three-quarters of all elementary and secondary teachers were women, while students are nearly evenly split between boys and girls.”4 And for male teachers of color, the gap is wider still: 2% of U.S. teachers are Black men.5

“The teaching profession is not as racially diverse as it needs to be,” the CAP report observes. “In most states, there is a large and growing gap between the percentage of students of color and the percentage of teacher of color.”1

The Power of Teacher Diversity

Research shows that when teachers reflect the makeup of their classrooms, students of color find more equity.

“Teachers of color tend to have more positive perceptions of students of color—both academically and behaviorally—than other teachers do,” the CAP report says. “A recent study found that African American teachers are less likely than white teachers to perceive African American students’ behavior as disruptive. Likewise, when a Black student has both a non-Black teacher and a Black teacher, the Black teacher tends to have a much higher estimation of the student’s academic abilities than the non-Black teacher. In both of these studies, the reverse did not hold true: Perceptions of white students’ behavior and academic ability were similar regardless of their teacher’s race.”1

Other research shows that diverse teacher representation can lead to improved test scores. In Florida, one study found there was an increase in reading and math test scores for Black students who had teachers who were Black. “For students who performed at the lowest levels, the effect of having a teacher of the same race was even larger,” according to CAP.1

A study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and American University found that having teachers of color at the helm of a classroom boosts college enrollment. Black students who had at least one Black teacher by the third grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college. And Black children who had two or more Black teachers while in elementary school were 32% more likely to go on to college.6

A National Priority

As school districts and education groups work to recruit and retain a more diverse teacher workforce, America’s top education official has pledged his commitment to diversity.

“We need to do better,” U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona told the Education Writers Association. “We need to make sure all students prefer to learn in the schoolhouse because it’s a warm place for them, it’s a welcoming place, they see people that look like them, that honor them and respect them. They see curriculum where they see their stories in the curriculum. All schools should be inviting places for not only students, but families. That’s the goal.”7

Earn a Teaching Degree

You can help represent your community at the helm of a K–12 classroom, or as a school administrator, by earning an education degree online from Walden University.

If you’re already an educator, consider earning an MS in Education (MSEd) to acquire the knowledge and skills you need to make a greater contribution in your elementary school, middle school, or high school. Walden’s master’s in education online degree program will prepare you to address the learning needs of diverse populations and help you build confidence, curiosity, and self-discipline in your students.

Walden’s MSEd degree program offers 15 specializations so you can focus your studies where you want to take your career. Options include Elementary Reading and Mathematics, Science (Grades K–8), and Teacher Leadership (Grades K–12). Walden also offers a choice of teaching degree completion options so you can follow a path that suits your work schedule and personal activities.

If you’re ready to become a teacher, Walden’s BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure) can help prepare you for a rewarding new career. In this online bachelor’s degree program, you’ll learn from experienced faculty who will help you acquire the knowledge and skills you need to become an effective and influential elementary school teacher.

When you enhance your career with a teaching degree, you can help create an equitable learning environment to give all students the chance for a brighter future.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Education degree program with 15 specializations and an online BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure) degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,