The U.S. teaching workforce is far less racially diverse than its student body. All students —but particularly Black and Latinx students—benefit academically and socially from having teachers who are people of color. And yet, such educators leave the profession at higher rates than their White colleagues.The U.S. teaching workforce is far less racially diverse than its student body. All students (PDF)—but particularly Black and Latinx students—benefit academically and socially from having teachers who are people of color. And yet, such educators leave the profession (PDF) at higher rates than their White colleagues.

Our State of the American Teacher Project investigated these questions. Our study included interviews with 40 teachers of color and a survey of nationally representative samples of teachers of color as a group and Black or African American and Hispanic teachers specifically. It is, to our knowledge, the first nationwide survey to document the experiences of people of color in education.

We found, first, that the costs of becoming a teacher and staying in the profession are substantial. Or, as one Black teacher put it: “The money is a big part of it—teachers don't get paid.”

The teachers of color we surveyed endorsed raising salaries as the most popular policy to attract and retain teachers like them. Additionally, Black teachers were more likely to say that low salaries were a job-related stressor than teachers of other races or ethnicities, possibly because carrying student debt is more common for Black students than their White counterparts. That, in turn, could make teaching—with its relatively lower salaries—less attractive than other professions.

Strategies to lower the educational and credentialing expenses of becoming a teacher could also have disproportionate benefits for diversifying the education workforce. Student loan forgiveness was the next-most-popular idea among teachers of color, so state policymakers could ensure that loan forgiveness and scholarship programs offer enough financial relief to make them attractive. They might also provide compensation for student teaching. Teacher preparation programs could provide scholarships, stipends, or other forms of debt-free financial support.

At the same time, our national survey results reinforce other research: Getting more people of color into teaching—and retaining them—will take more than just a pay raise.

In our survey, one-third of teachers and nearly half of principals who were people of color reported experiencing at least one incident of racial discrimination that school year. Often, their school colleagues were the source.

Poor well-being is another reason teachers of color may consider leaving their jobs. In our survey, teachers of color were more likely to report symptoms of depression than their White colleagues—and Hispanic or Latinx teachers were the most likely to report poor well-being overall. “It's just so stressful,” one teacher of color told us. “You have to love what you're doing if you're going to survive as a teacher.”

Read the full article about teachers of color by Ashley Woo, Elizabeth D. Steiner, and Sy Doan at RAND Corporation.