Panel Paper: Teacher Diversity in Decline? Evidence from Michigan’s Era of Economic Change and Policy Reform

Friday, November 9, 2018
Johnson - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Steven Drake, Jesse Nagel, Joshua Cowen and Katharine Strunk, Michigan State University

A growing body of evidence suggests that a racially and ethnically diverse teaching workforce yields material gains to education. Recent research indicates that exposure to demographically similar teachers has a positive impact on student achievement, attainment, and disciplinary outcomes (e.g. Dee 2004; Gershenson, et al. 2016, 2017; Egalite, Kisida and Winters 2015). The clustering of non-white students in certain schools and districts in urban contexts, together with well-established patterns of high attrition from those schools (e.g. Lankford, Loeb, and Wyckoff 2002) suggests a policy incentive to ensure that the proportion of non-white teachers keeps pace, at minimum, with demographic changes in the racial composition of schools.

In this paper, we explore patterns of teacher demographics over a medium-run panel in Michigan, where substantial policy, demographic and economic change indicates that maintaining a diverse workforce may represent a particular challenge. Like other states, Michigan enacted major reforms to the teacher labor market that included reductions in the scope of collective bargaining, a new teacher evaluation system, and increasing the time to tenure. Since that reform period began, teachers in Michigan have been exiting the public school system at higher rates (Cowen, et al. 2017)—especially in high poverty schools. Those reforms followed fundamental finance reform a decade earlier that restructured school funding and simultaneously launched a large charter sector and a system of inter-district choice among traditional public schools. Throughout this period, local school district financial crises led to the state’s appointment of emergency managers and outright district dissolution in several communities with significant proportions of African Americans.

We employ rich state school staff and student panels, to document changes in the demographic composition of Michigan’s teacher workforce between 2005-2016. In particular, we attempt to estimate the proportion of change in teacher demographics associated with student residential migration, inter-district choice, inter-sector choice and teacher-related policy reform. We also link these descriptive results to local variation between districts under crisis management.

Preliminary results indicate that this composite of policy, demographic, and economic change corresponds to the loss of 46% of Michigan’s African American teachers between 2005 and 2011. These losses have slowed since 2011, but currently remain at 49% of 2005 levels—a decline far exceeding the 22% decline of African American students over the same timeframe. On the other hand, the population of Hispanic teachers has grown by 29% while under-pacing the growth of the underlying student-age Hispanic population. We frame these empirical results within the context of recent research stressing positive gains to student-teacher racial match and noted above. In particular, our evidence suggests that the challenge of maintaining a diverse teacher workforce in areas of high non-white minority enrollment may further disadvantage students in those particular schools.