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Study: Minority Teacher Shortages Linked to Poor Working Conditions

A new analysis of federal data suggests that minority teacher shortages are caused not by a lack of minority candidates entering the profession but by unsatisfactory working conditions in schools.

The study, conducted by University of Pennsylvania researchers Richard M. Ingersoll and Henry May, finds that—contrary to conventional wisdom—the number of minority teachers in the U.S. has increased dramatically over the past 20 years, with the total nearly doubling. Ingersoll and May say the data, in effect, validate targeted efforts to prepare and recruit minority teaching candidates.

However, the data also show that minority teachers, who are more likely to work in hard-to-staff urban schools, tend to leave their jobs at a much higher rate than their white counterparts, creating a "revolving door" effect.

Digging deeper into the data, Ingersoll and May find that minority teachers' decisions to leave a school are most often related to dissatisfaction with their working conditions—particularly with "the level of collective faculty decision-making influence in the school and the degree of instructional autonomy held by teachers in their classroom." In other words, these teachers often feel a lack of professional control and independence.

Ingersoll and May say this finding has implications both for minority teacher recruitment programs and for school reform initiatives. They note that accountability-based reforms—generally implemented most aggressively in high-poverty urban schools—often entail "decreases in teachers' classroom autonomy and schoolwide decision-making input." Thus, if not carefully balanced, they may have the "unintended consequence" of increasing minority teacher turnover.

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