The state of educator racial diversity in Massachusetts

This data story provides an overview of the current state of educator racial diversity in Massachusetts, exploring its significance, challenges, and potential benefits. Key points covered include:

Diversity among new teaching staff in increasing
Line chart showing Massachusetts students are diversifying faster than the teacher workforce

Massachusetts serves a diverse student population, with various ethnicities, cultures, and languages represented in its schools. With a growing population of students of color, giving more students access to same-race teachers during their time in school remains an important goal. In 2023, 10% of public school teachers in the state are teachers of color. This marks an improvement from 10 years prior in 2013 when the state had 8.7% teachers of color.
To understand how to have the biggest impact on teacher diversity, we use data about demographics at each step of the "pipeline” to becoming a teacher: from K-12 graduation, through college attendance and completion, to obtaining a teacher license. Understanding leakage points, where potential teachers of color may face barriers, can inform targeted state programs to support future and current teachers.
Group of college-aged students working together

Key Takeaways

  • Teacher diversity benefits students: Increasing teacher diversity has benefits for all students including higher academic achievement, fewer discipline issues, and a more inclusive school climate.
  • Biggest leaks in the pipeline come early: Massachusetts loses much of its potential teacher diversity early in the pipeline, between high school and college graduation. Interventions such as financial assistance, tutoring, exam preparation, and other evidence-based strategies may help close diversity gaps early in the pipeline and support diverse candidates in accessing and completing higher education as well as passing licensure exams.
  • Targeted programs help promote teacher diversity: Expanding successful initiatives that assist prospective educators through college and licensure could continue the diversification momentum.
    • The Teacher Diversification Grant (TDG) and Tomorrow's Teachers Scholarship have increased teacher diversity in participating districts and supported candidates of color. 
    • Licensure exam preparation and fee waivers also help candidates overcome testing barriers.  
    • "Grow your own" programs create local pipelines from high school to teaching careers.
  • Equalizing retention rates can have an impact: Teachers of color are still more likely to leave teaching than White teachers, so initiatives that ensure educators from diverse backgrounds feel supported, valued, and empowered within their educational communities can help. 

Why educator diversity is important for our schools

The student population continues to grow more diverse, with over 45.6% of public and charter school students identifying as students of color. While Massachusetts has made some progress in diversifying our educator workforce, with the percentage of teachers of color increasing from 8.7% in 2013 to 10% today, significant gaps remain. Though our teaching force remains 90% White, new teachers entering the workforce are more diverse than the overall teacher workforce — 18% of new teachers in 2022 were teachers of color, compared to 10% overall.
Select a district from the dropdown menu and filter by race/ethnicity in the charts below to explore local educator and student demographics in more detail.
Racial diversity among our teachers
Racial diversity among our students
Dive into the data on Massachusetts' teaching pool with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)'s interactive educator data dashboard.

Diversity among our educators creates more inclusive environments that improve school climate, relationships, and sense of belonging for students of all backgrounds. Research suggests that educator diversity leads to the following outcomes for students:
Research suggests these benefits could occur because students of color may be perceived as less disruptive by teachers who share their racial/ethnic background, and they may feel teachers who look like them better understand their experiences and perspectives. It could also be that greater diversity among teachers mitigates biases and makes students of color feel more included at school. As Massachusetts works to provide quality education for all students, pursuing greater diversity among educators remains a priority. The research makes clear that increasing teacher diversity significantly benefits all students academically, socially, and emotionally.

Teacher Diversity Pipeline

The teacher diversity pipeline refers to the steps that lead to a diverse teacher workforce in public schools. It begins with public school students, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, and follows their journey to becoming licensed teachers who remain in the profession. The teacher diversity pipeline consists of the following critical steps:
Teacher Diversity Pipeline

The path to diversifying the educator workforce begins early and faces hurdles at each transition. 

The biggest leaks in the pipeline for potential teachers of color are between high school and college graduation and between college and becoming licensed teachers.

Teacher exams contribute to the underrepresentation of teachers of color.

As the pool of Massachusetts students moves from K-12 to high school graduation, to college enrollment, to college graduation—the first four stages of the teacher diversity pipeline—the representation of White students in the pool increases at each step of the pipeline, while the number of Asian, Black, and Hispanic students declines. Between graduating college and earning a teacher license, the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) is a critical step for college students seeking to become teachers, and the role it plays in educator diversity is complicated. The makeup of students who take the MTEL test at all is disproportionately White compared to overall 4-year enrollment. Pass rates on the test, both for first attempts and with retakes included, are higher for White and Asian test takers. Candidates of color are also less likely to retake the exams after failing initial attempts compared to White candidates.

However, exam pass rates alone do not fully explain racial disparities in program completion rates.

As the data show the biggest losses in diversity happen early in the pipeline, and suggest that once certified, teachers of color have similar hiring and retention rates. This means we need to diversify the pool of students interested in becoming teachers as early as high school. Creating initiatives to support diverse students in enrolling, persisting through, and successfully graduating from college on the path to teaching careers is key.
Cheerful diverse group of students giving high five to their teacher

Massachusetts Takes Action

Improving diversity across the teacher pipeline 

Massachusetts has recognized the need to diversify the teaching profession across the pipeline and has implemented several programs toward that goal.

Two young female students with workbooks interacting while studying

1. Encouraging more diverse students to become teachers

  • The Department of Higher Education’s (DHE’s) Tomorrow's Teachers Scholarship makes college more affordable for students interested in teaching careers.
  • DESE’s Teacher Diversification initiative funds high school pathways and financial assistance to support more students of color in completing college and pursuing teaching careers. It also supports coursework that reflects diverse cultures and perspectives.
  • The InSPIRED Initiative connects current educators with DESE to help cultivate, support, and retain a culturally responsive and diverse educator workforce in Massachusetts schools. The initiative promotes education as a meaningful, rewarding career pathway and elevates the voices and brilliance of educators of color.

2. Supporting students in college and teacher preparation programs

  • To assist with licensure, the state offers MTEL fee vouchers and preparation courses. DESE partners with over 60 preparation programs to ready teachers.
Two young male students standing with a document and talking about their studies

Teacher and students smiling in a classroom

3. Hiring and retaining diverse teachers

  • The Teacher Diversification initiative encourages and supports districts in growing talent from within through partnerships with local high schools and colleges.
  • Emergency teaching licenses created during the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily lifted licensure requirements. In the school year 2021-2022, at least 27% of teachers hired on an emergency license identified as people of color, which appeared to significantly contribute to increases in the racial/ethnic diversity of the workforce during that period.
  • Schools are offered the opportunity to apply for DESE’s Teacher Diversification Grant funding that can support hiring bonusesloan repayment, and retention stipends to make teaching financially attractive.  
  • The Paraprofessional Teacher Preparation Grant provided by DHE awards financial assistance to paraprofessionals in Massachusetts public schools planning to become certified full-time teachers. Maximum awards range from $4,000-$7,500 annually. This grant supports paraprofessionals transitioning to lead classroom roles. 

4. Transforming workplace culture

  • DESE acts to retain diverse teachers and leaders through leadership initiatives such as the Influence 100 program, which develops skills and promotes educators of color into leadership roles, as well as resources like the Model Handbook for Principal Induction and Mentoring, which support novice principals and their mentors to well serve all students with diverse educational needs. 
  • The state supports the retention of diverse teachers through professional development on cultural competence, implicit bias, and inclusive practices to improve school climate. 
Cheerful teacher with smiling student standing in front of white board

Insights from the Teacher Diversification Program Districts

  1. Antonio, A. L., Chang, M. J., Hakuta, K., Kenny, D. A., Levin, S., & Milem, J. F. (2004). Effects of racial diversity on complex thinking in college studentsPsychological science
  2. Bacher-Hicks, A., Baloch, S., Chi, O., Tichnor-Wagner, A. (2023) Entering the Teacher Pipeline During COVID-19: Evidence from the First Cohort of Emergency License Holders in Massachusetts. Wheelock Educational Policy Center at Boston University 
  3. Backes, B., Cowan, J., Goldhaber, D., & Theobald, R. (2022). Teachers and School Climate: Effects on Student Outcomes and Academic Disparities. CALDER
  4. Cowan, J., Goldhaber, D., Jin, Z., & Theobald, R. (2020). Teacher Licensure Tests: Barrier or Predictive Tool?  CALDER
  5. Gershenson, S., Hart, C. M. D., Hyman, J., Lindsay, C. A., & Papageorge, N. W. (2022). The long-run impacts of same-race teachersAmerican Economic Association
  6. Holt, S., & Gershenson, S. (2015). The impact of teacher demographic representation on student attendance and suspensionsIZA Discussion Paper 
  7. Rucinski, M., & Goodman, J. (2019). Racial diversity in the teacher pipeline: Evidence from Massachusetts. Harvard
By Ofa Middleton, Dec. 15, 2023