Over the past four decades, the face of America has changed dramatically. In 1972, whites represented 78 percent of the student population nationally. Today, no ethnic subgroup holds a plurality. In Nevada, the diversification of communities has occurred at an increasingly accelerated rate, already surpassing demographic patterns projected for the nation in 2050. At the same time, the ethnic diversity of the teaching corps has remained relatively static. Between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of non-white teachers increased only four percentage points, to a total of 18 percent. This incongruence, known as the “diversity index,” has implications for the education of K-12 students, as research has demonstrated better learning outcomes for both white students and students of color in ethnically diverse teaching environments.
- Katrina Liu, assistant professor in the College of Education’s Teaching and Learning department
- Shaoan Zhang, associate professor in the College of Education’s Teaching and Learning department
- Chelsea Desalvo, College of Education graduate student
- Malayka Cornejo, College of Education graduate student
These experts authored a policy paper, "Recruit, Prepare, and Retain Teachers of Color in Nevada," that appears in the College of Education’s 2017 volume of reports for Nevada lawmakers. To read the full paper, visit the College of Education's policy initiatives site.
A few facts
- In the 2012-13 academic year, students of color composed 63 percent of the statewide student population, while teachers of color represented only 19 percent of the corps.
- Within the Clark County School District, whites represented only 26.2 percent of the student body in academic year 2015-16, but 72.9 percent of the teachers.
- Nevada’s diversity index, at 42, is among the largest in the nation, with the national average diversity index of 30.
- National research reveals improved academic outcomes among students instructed by teachers of similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In addition, teachers of color are also perceived as “role models” by non-white students.
Why this matters
What happens if Nevada’s diversity index maintains status quo?
Experts note that the relative lack of teachers of color within Nevada is a self-perpetuating cycle. “When students of color are not educated by teachers of color, they may perceive teaching to be a role reserved for whites and elect not pursue that field of study,” Liu said. And, given the acute and persistent shortage of teachers in Nevada and the state’s demographic composition, non-whites represent a large, relatively untapped potential pool of teachers.
Currently, Education Week’s Research Quality Counts 2016 report list Nevada last in the nation for “student chance of success,” and 38th for K-12 achievement. Based upon data from comparable metropolitan areas with smaller diversity indices than Nevada’s, a greater level of teacher diversity is correlated with improved student performance and higher graduation rates.
What steps has the state already taken, and what steps should we consider, to support potential teachers of color in the state?
Related to recruitment, currently, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas has implemented alternative licensure programs, which enroll a larger percentage of teacher candidates of color. In addition, The Nevada Department of Education provided a grant enabling the development of the Abriendo Caminos/Opening Pathways initiative, which encourages Clark County School District students of color to consider teaching as an educational plan in high school. CCSD also implemented a multi-pronged initiative to address the teacher shortage that includes, among other things, fast-track certification options and monetary hiring incentives for teachers committing to work in lower-performing schools.
To assist current teachers, the Clark County School District offers professional development opportunities to increase the cultural competence of teachers from all ethnic backgrounds working with students of color. Experts suggest building upon initiatives like these, as well as increasing funding to support and implement supplementary programs that recruit, train and provide mentorship to new teachers of color. Experts also note that expanding upon the successful Zoom and Victory schools promoted through Senate Bills 405 and 432 may be beneficial.
How does Nevada benefit from adding more teachers of color to the workforce?
An ongoing challenge for Nevada in attracting major employers and diversifying the economy is the national reputation of its primary and secondary educational system. Experts note that measures that improve student performance and, by extension, the state’s ranking will support the state’s broad economic goals. Liu states, “A secondary, but no less important reason, is that citizens of color have as much right to aspire to education as a career—and to experience success in that career—as members of the majority do.”