An untapped opportunity to attract young people of color to education


School leaders play many essential roles in their schools. They divide their time between supporting their teachers, communicating with parents, working with the district office, and managing all operational processes to keep the school open on a day-to-day basis. Demanding work, principals often work almost 60 hour weeks, filled with challenges ranging from layers of bureaucratic and political demands to regular criticism from parents or employees.

Given the importance and visibility of school leaders, it is important to consider the racial and ethnic diversity of this group of educators. Administrators of color bring a number of unique strengths: More frequent exposure to people of color in positions of authority can replace unconscious stereotypes and prejudices with acceptance and confidence; color leaders have a definite advantage when interact with community members who share their racial or ethnic origin; and finally, leaders of color can bring nuance and perspective for academic programs targeting students of color. As public schools increasingly serve students of color, states and districts should also make a diverse corpus of principals a priority.

In this episode of our continuing series on teacher diversity, we take a look at diversity among school leaders. Because running a classroom is almost a universal prerequisite for running a school, we weren’t surprised to see large gaps in diversity between directors of color and the students they serve, reflecting to pretty much what we observe among teachers.

We were surprised, however, to learn that leadership opportunities in schools are significantly stronger for black and Hispanic groups compared to leadership opportunities in other industries. In other words, our results imply that leadership opportunities could be a strength of the teaching profession. These opportunities may well help attract young people of color to the teaching profession, if we can get the word out.

Diversity among school leaders

Throughout this article, we paint a picture of the pool of public school leaders using data from the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS).[1] The profession code “educational administrator” that we use includes directors of public schools and vice-principals. The following table presents some summary statistics of the demographic composition of people in this occupation, as well as comparison data with teachers and students in public schools.

Table 1: Demographic distribution of administrators, teachers and students

Race / ethnicity Administrators Teachers Students
White 75.1% 80.1% 50.3%
Black 12.9% 7.7% 14.4%
Hispanic 8.6% 8.3% 25.2%
Other races 3.4% 3.9% 10.0%
Source: Authors’ calculations based on the American Community Survey, 2016; Estimates over 5 years.

We see a significant degree of racial mismatch between school administrators and the students in their care: only half of the students are white, but three-quarters of the administrators are. The over-representation of whites among administrators roughly reflects the over-representation among teachers (80%), an almost universal history of school leadership.

In fact, the overrepresentation of white teachers and administrators probably dates back to the Brown v. United States Supreme Court Board of Education. In the decade since the case, due to the closure of black schools and discrimination against black administrators, an estimated 90 percent of black principals in the South lost their jobs. The simultaneous loss of 38,000 black teachers of the same era meant the loss of a potential future generation of leaders. However, it is encouraging to note that the representation of black school leaders has rebounded somewhat (12.9%) and is now closer to the representation of students (14.4%) than that of teachers (7.7%). ); although this is not the case with other racial subgroups.

One way to reduce this data is to look at the ratio of principals to teachers for each demographic group. For reasons that will be clear in a moment, we are creating these ratios of leaders to teachers by race. and the kind. Figure 1 below plots these ratios between racial and ethnic subgroups in the data. Higher values ​​here suggest greater opportunities for advancement in leadership within schools from the ranks of teachers. For example, at the top end, there are two black male leaders for every nine black male teachers in the survey, resulting in a leader: teacher ratio of 0.22. By the way, white women have the lowest ratio, with one administrator for about 16 teachers.

Looking back to examine the general trends in this figure, two points are worth emphasizing. First, men have higher leader / teacher ratios than women in all racial and ethnic categories. While it is disheartening that men have easier access to administration than women, especially in a predominantly female profession like teaching, this is consistent with this. previous research evidence on the subject.

Second, and what surprises us most, is that black men and women have the highest leader-to-teacher ratios in their respective gender categories. Black men and women are more heavily represented in school leadership ranks than in teaching staff, suggesting particularly strong career advancement prospects for teachers in these subgroups. The other three racial and ethnic groups have roughly equal ratios (within sex).

Leadership in schools versus other industries

The leader: teacher ratio above is an approximation of advancement within the industry; however, it is possible that other industries offer different, perhaps even better, options for advancement in management for certain groups that public education does not offer. The ACS data we use for this analysis also allows us to examine how the demographics of managers in other industries compare to that of managers in public schools.

For the following analysis, we examine the demographics of those in management positions in health care, social services and post-secondary education. We choose these three industries because they are complementary public service-oriented fields that, like K-12 schools, typically require a bachelor’s degree and professional license to enter these fields (and usually an advanced degree to become a leader). While school leadership certainly requires a unique set of skills, we would expect that many of these skills will be shared with managers in these complementary industries, and therefore could be considered a reasonable approximation of leadership opportunities outside of the classroom. public schools for those considering a career in public education.

Figure 2 presents a ratio of school leaders to managers in these other areas by race and gender subgroups. Overall, we observe three principals in the data for seven executives in other professions, or one principal ratio: framework of 0.3 – that this value is less than one is reasonable, because we group the leaders of one sector against those in several sectors.

This ratio of 0.3 could be taken as a basis for comparison: higher values ​​among specific subgroups suggest more likely progression towards management in public schools, while lower values ​​suggest greater opportunities. exist outside public schools. Specifically, white women as well as men and women in the “Other” tote category (mostly Asians) show values ​​below this benchmark of 0.3, suggesting that their leadership opportunities are. probably higher in these other industries.

On the flip side, black and Hispanic men and women (and white men) score well above that benchmark of 0.3. These ratios suggest that black and Hispanic people who assess a career in public schools against these complementary sectors have better prospects for upward mobility in public education.

Promote school leadership to attract more young people of color to schools

Summarizing our results, we see ratios of school leaders to teachers that put black teachers in an advantageous position to become a school leader. And when compared to other industries, black and Hispanic individuals are more strongly represented among leaders in K-12 public schools than executives in other complementary industries. Yes, people of color continue to be disproportionately under-represented in school leadership, although this appears to be more of a function of the pipeline in education, not in leadership.

We interpret this data as indicating strong career opportunities for black and Hispanic people in public education. Yet, to our knowledge, career advancement opportunities are not part of recruitment strategies to attract more non-white teachers to the profession. We think they should be, because it could be a powerful strategy to increase diversity in two distinct ways.

First, when teaching is touted as the first step in a career in schools with opportunities for advancement (rather than a generally assumed flat career path), many young people of color may be more attracted to the profession. . Second, when incoming teachers are diverse and then move on to leadership, their influence is multiplied: Heads of colored establishments have their own unique influence on hiring and staffing decisions, often resulting in greater attraction and retention among teachers of color. Color leaders have been shown touch the teachers of color to push them towards the school administration.

In other words, diverse teachers are the direct inputs to a diverse group of school leaders. Once they lead, they promote diverse teachers. Rinse and repeat.

Bethany Kirkpatrick and Kimberly Truong contributed to this article.


  1. We isolate survey respondents who report working full time as an education administrator. The ACS is designed to be a representative sample of US households, not necessarily the group of public school administrators. We compared the demographics of ACS school administrators to those reported in the 2015-2016 National Survey of Teachers and Principals, a survey designed to be representative of principals, and found a almost perfect alignment on race, age and gender. (Back to the top)

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