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Administrative Support Can Help Retain Isolated Teachers of Color

A sense of support from principals and other higher-ups boosts retention for non-white teachers at schools with largely white staffs, new research finds.

Teachers of color continue to be underrepresented in the United States, even though the student population is expected to be majority-non-white by 2020—meaning many students don't see themselves reflected in the people educating them. But a new study points to a fairly straightforward strategy for retaining non-white teachers who might feel isolated at work: providing them with administrative support.

Previous research has suggested that teacher turnover hurts student achievement, and that (as might be expected) solid administrative support helps keep teachers in their jobs, regardless of race. In a Brookings Institution report released this week, economists Steven Bednar and Dora Gicheva looked at whether that support means even more for teachers of color. They find it does.

Analyzing four years' worth of survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the report looks at teachers' perception of support from administrators, their co-workers, and their students' parents. A sense of encouragement and backing from administrators, rather than from co-workers or parents, gave the biggest bump to teacher retention.

But those effects were strongest overall for minority teachers in schools where 90 percent or more of the teachers were white. Support from principals and other higher-ups does seem to matter more for non-white teachers at schools with overwhelmingly white staffs. That support also had an especially strong effect in less affluent schools, further suggesting that an attentive administration has a greater effect the more strained teachers feel, whether it's by a lack of diversity, a lack of resources, or both.

More studies are needed to understand which forms of support—like providing more teacher training, for example, or vying to improve school climate directly—works best, and how greater minority teacher retention translates into student achievement, the researchers note. But it's clear that plenty of schools could increase their non-white staff. Over two-thirds of the schools surveyed in the NCES data employed 10 percent or fewer minority teachers. It seems providing those teachers support makes a difference in practice, not just in theory.