Diversity distractions

September 04, 2014

This fall Teach for America welcomes its “most diverse” corps in its history, according to a recent press release, with 50 percent of its teachers identifying as people of color.

“We’re proud that our incoming corps is more diverse than it’s ever been,” said Elisa Villanueva Beard, the group’s co-CEO. “We know that teachers from all backgrounds can have a meaningful impact on their students’ trajectories.”

Really? How meaningful?


The research, though, is not exactly conclusive. One of the largest studies was done by Thomas Dee, a Swarthmore economics professor, who wrote up his results in a 2004 article in Education Next.

Looking at a dataset of more than 20,000 separate observations of students in Tennessee, Dee found that: “On average, students’ performance improved by roughly 2 to 3 percentile points during their first year with a teacher of the same race,” and kids who spent more years with same-race teachers added to those gains.

“The cumulative effect of being assigned to an own-race teacher for four consecutive years is roughly 9 percentile points in math and 8 points in reading,” Dee found.