Update On Teacher Diversity Data: Good News, Bad News, And Strange News

A couple of months ago, we released a report on the collection and availability of teacher race and ethnicity data, based on our late 2017 survey of all 51 state education agencies (SEAs) in the U.S. We asked them two simple questions: 1) Do you collect data (school- or district-level) on teacher race and ethnicity; and 2) Do you make the data public, and how (i.e., by request or on your website)?

Our findings, in brief, were that the majority of states both collected and made public school- and district-level data on teacher diversity, but that six states did not collect the data all, and another four states collect the data but do not make them available to the public.

Since the publication of that report, we’ve come across significant information/updates pertaining to three states, which we would like to note briefly. We might characterize these three updates as good news, bad news, and strange news.

The good news: Tennessee. Tennessee’s response to our survey was that they do not collect school- or district-level data on teacher race and ethnicity, but that they were in the process of setting it up (as was noted in the footnotes of the appendix table in the report). 

It turns out that Tennessee moved rather quickly. The state actually published teacher diversity estimates in August 2018, roughly a month before we published our report, but several months after we administered our survey. The data they have made public are only district-level, rather than the more detailed state-by-state estimates, but a state official tells us that they are looking into the possibility of also releasing the latter at some point in the future.

This is excellent news, and Tennessee should be commended for it.

The bad news: District of Columbia. In our brief, we report that D.C. collects school- and district-level teacher diversity data, and that they make these data available to the public (but not on their website). Due to a mistake that is not worth explaining but for which I take full responsibility, this is only partially true. 

In reality, data are only collected for District of Columbia Public Schools (i.e., regular public schools operating in the District), but not for D.C. charter schools. Collecting data for the latter is (or, rather, would be) the responsibility of D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). It turns out that OSSE does not centrally collect teacher diversity data for the District’s charter schools, at either the district- or school-level. (In all other states, when our report noted that data were collected, it meant for both regular public and charter schools.)

This should have been noted prominently in the report, and I apologize for the error. That said, given that charter schools serve roughly half of the District’s public school students, the fact that they do not even collect teacher diversity data for this sector is no small exception. Moreover, as we noted in our 2015 report, the D.C. teacher workforce has undergone radical shifts in its racial composition over the past 20 or so years, and the rapid growth of the D.C. charter sector may have had something to do with that.

(Side note: See this post for the full story of our request to DCPS for data for our 2015 report.)

The strange news: Alabama. Alabama’s state education agency was by far the most frustrating respondent to our survey. It took us dozens of phone and e-mail communications over a period of several months to get an answer to our two simple questions.

When they finally responded, they told us that they do not collect any teacher diversity data, which is how we coded that state in our report.

Shortly after the report was published, however, we received an e-mail message from Tricia Powell Crain, an education reporter with the Alabama Media Group. Tricia was (quite understandably) taken aback by the results of our survey saying that Alabama did not collect the data, since she had requested and received teacher diversity data from the state in mid-2017 (only district-level), and wrote a story about it.

We are willing to give Alabama the benefit of the doubt and conclude that their falsely telling us they do not collect the data was due to a bureaucratic mistake, rather than deliberate misinformation. However, given how long it took them to make this mistake, and the fact that it amounts to withholding public information, that is not much of a benefit.

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