Opening Doors

Strategies for advancing racial diversity in Wisconsin’s teacher workforce

March 2021


In June 2020, the Wisconsin Policy Forum published A Teacher Who Looks Like Me: Examining racial diversity in Wisconsin’s teacher workforce and the student-to-teacher pipeline. The impetus for that research was both the long-standing racial disparities in educational outcomes that have persisted in Wisconsin for decades and a growing body of research pointing to the benefits that a racially diverse and representative teacher workforce can bring to mitigate those disparities. Studies have linked students’ access to teachers from their own race and ethnic background with a variety of beneficial outcomes – from higher rates of academic achievement, attendance, high school graduation, and college enrollment, to lower rates of suspension, dropout, and discipline referrals.

A Teacher Who Looks Like Me showed that while students of color have been rising as a share of Wisconsin’s public K-12 student population, its teacher workforce has remained overwhelmingly white. We found similar gaps in representation for individual race and ethnic groups and throughout the state in rural, suburban, and urban communities.

Moreover, we found those gaps to be fueled by race-based disparities at key educational milestones required to pursue a teaching career. The consequence has been a narrowing stream of people of color throughout the student-to-teacher pipeline. Specifically, while students of color made up 31% of K-12 students statewide in 2018, that share dropped to 24% for graduating seniors, 20% for those enrolled in college, 10% for teacher preparation program enrollees, and 6% for teachers statewide.

This report follows up on our data findings by examining the drivers of these trends and the range of potential local strategies and state policy options to improve the diversity of Wisconsin’s teacher workforce. While this is a challenge with which education leaders and policymakers are grappling throughout the country, our focus is on the policy proposals that are tailored to Wisconsin’s particular challenges and that ideally would complement, coordinate, and capitalize on the assets and resources already being deployed.

We begin with a discussion of the barriers and challenges that impede progress toward greater teacher diversity in Wisconsin at both the individual and institutional level. Then, we explore key local strategies that schools, districts, universities, and community-based organizations are undertaking to attract, support, and retain teachers of color throughout the state. The discussion spotlights some specific local initiatives to illustrate how such efforts can take shape on the ground. Where possible, it also considers how well those efforts are working and what more may need to be done at the state or local level.

Building on our understanding of Wisconsin’s particular teacher diversity challenges and some of the assets local institutions are leveraging to address them, the final section addresses how state-level leadership and policy levers could complement and supplement local efforts. It explores five key policy priorities where we recommend state-level leaders and policymakers focus resources and action. Continue reading…