Only 10 percent of Colorado teachers are minorities, while 43 percent of state students belong to minority groups, a new report has found.

“A major challenge in the U.S. education system, including Colorado’s education system, is the mismatch between the racial and ethnic diversity of the nation’s overall student population and that of the teacher workforce,” according to a new report titled “Keeping Up with the Kids: Increasing Minority Teacher Representation in Colorado.”

The study was commissioned by a 2014 law (House Bill 14-1175) sponsored by Democratic Reps. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Dan Pabon of Denver. Fields nicknamed the bill “Aliyah’s Law” after Cherry Creek middle school student Aliyah Cook, who told a House committee last February that she was looking for “a role model I could look up to and say, ‘I want to be just like you.’”

Colorado’s percentage of minority teachers lags behind the nation. The report found that 18.1 percent of U.S. teachers were minorities in 2011-12 school year, compared to 48 percent of students.

And while the state’s teacher workforce grew 17 percent from 1999 to 2013, the percentage of minority teachers has remained stuck at 10 percent.

“The number of white, Hispanic, and Asian teachers has trended up over the past 15 years and remained fairly constant in share of workforce at about 90 percent, 7 percent, and 1 percent, respectively. The number of Black and Native American teachers has remained steady at approximately 700 (about 1 percent of total) and 250 (less than 1 percent of total), respectively. Over this period the share of black and Native American teachers in the Colorado workforce has declined.”

The study recommends that “the legislature create and authorize a multi-million dollar per year” grant program to help districts, teacher preparation programs and non-profits increase the recruitment of minority teacher candidates and retention of working teachers.

“There is room to improve Colorado’s current recruitment strategies,” the report said, adding, “There is no single, statewide solution to the challenge of recruiting and retaining minority teachers. Instead, there are multiple possible solutions, tailored to fit the assets and needs of different communities and different parts of the state. The role of the state is to help communities organize and build capacity to recruit and retain minority teachers, and to evaluate recruitment and retention efforts to learn from successes and challenges.”

Many education researchers and advocates believe a more diverse teacher work force would help improve the achievement of minority students, whose performance typically lags that of white students.

“Colorado district administrators and teacher educators who were interviewed for this analysis shared a belief that increasing teacher diversity enhances students’ relationships to and connections with teachers, which in turn is part of narrowing the achievement gap,” the report said.

Barriers to recruiting and retaining minority teachers include negative perceptions of teaching profession among minorities, low salaries, barriers for minority students in attending and completing college, college costs licensing tests, issues of cultural competence and the challenges of relocation, the report found.

There are signs of improvement in the statistics, the report found, noting that 12 percent of new hires are minorities, that 14 percent of students in college and university teacher prep programs are minorities and that 21 percent of new bachelor’s degree graduates are minorities. “Thus, there is an expanding possible pool of new minorities that could be entering the classroom.”

The study drew three overall conclusions about the issue:

  • There’s a widely held desire to improve minority teacher recruitment and capacity but limited capacity within schools and preparation programs to address the issue.
  • Recruitment and retention efforts need to be tailored to meet the needs of individual districts and communities.
  • Improved relationships among educators and between educational institutions and minority communities are key.

Possible strategies for retention higher salaries and incentives, effective principals and school leadership; comprehensive mentoring and induction, networks of teacher collaboration and support, increased classroom autonomy, and improved facilities.

The report was done for the state by the research firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, the go-to company for much Colorado education research. In 2014 the firm also do research for the Standards and Assessments Task Force (see story), and Augenblick vice president facilitated the work of the Online Task Force. Both study groups were created by the 2014 legislature. HB 14-1175 appropriated $50,000 for the minority teachers study.