Study finds high-achieving minorities shun teaching

October 18, 2013

WBEZ/Odette Yousef
Minority students should be recruited into the teaching profession at a much younger age, according to a study that finds few high-achieving minority students opt to teach in Illinois public schools.

A decade-long study of more than 225,000 Illinois public high school graduates finds many reasons that minorities are not becoming teachers. The Illinois Education Research Council at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville tracked the classes of 2002 and 2003 as they moved beyond high school and into their careers. The study sheds light on where students, including African-American and Latino graduates, drop out of that pipeline.

Illinois education officials have been wrestling with a significant mismatch between the number of minority teachers and the number of minority students in the state’s public schools. While almost half of students are non-white, more than 80 percent of their teachers are Caucasian. A recent push to increase teacher quality standards threatens to exacerbate the difference.

The Illinois Education Research Council study, meanwhile, finds that while roughly one-third of Illinois public high school graduates earned a Bachelor’s degree, only 3 percent became teachers. Within the pool of 4-year college degree earners, minorities went on to become teachers in Illinois public schools at a noticeably lower rate than their white counterparts.

“The minority numbers were actually surprising to me,” said Brad White, lead researcher on the study. “I sort of went into the study thinking that a lot of that story could be told simply by looking at different rates of enrollment and graduation from college. And that wasn’t the case at all.”

White said minority graduates with Bachelor’s degrees, and particularly those who fell into the top third of ACT scores, opted to earn teaching certificates at lower rates than similarly qualified white students. And beyond that, African-Americans who did receive teaching certificates were less likely to get teaching positions in Illinois public schools.

White suggested that the state could increase its pool of minority teachers by recruiting promising students into the profession as early as high school. He said the state could also focus on improving educational opportunities for minority students before they get to college.

“We might be able to see changes in the number of those students that are interested in pursuing teaching as a career if the career is perceived as more prestigious and more difficult to enter,” White added. This is an approach state officials say they are trying to take, by increasing testing standards required to enter the profession.

A spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Education noted that the state encourages colleges and universities to partner with local school districts to recruit diverse students into the teaching profession, and that the state has expanded funding for Teach for America recruitment. The study found that alternative certification programs such as TFA appear to be good pathways for academically gifted minorities into the teaching profession.

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her at @oyousef.

Note: This article incorrectly stated that the Illinois Education Research Council is at Southeastern Illinois University in Edwardsville. It is at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.