Building Momentum for Teacher Diversity in Philadelphia (Part I)


A collage of images featuring a woman speaking at a podium, a panel of speakers, and members of the audience.

Building Momentum for Teacher Diversity in Philadelphia (Part I)

Think about your K-12th grade teachers. Did you have teachers who shared your racial or cultural background? Did you have teachers who did not? I hope the answer to both questions is “yes.”

However, for many students of color the answer to the first question is “no,” and research shows that’s a problem. Study after study shows that all students, particularly students of color, benefit from diverse teachers. In fact, when Black students have at least one Black teacher by 3rd grade, they are 13 percent more likely to enroll in college. When a Black student has two Black teachers, they are 32 percent more likely to go to college (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2018).

In Philadelphia, although the student population in public schools is 86 percent students of color, teachers of color make up about 34 percent of all public-school teachers. This means that many students infrequently encounter teachers who share their racial or cultural background. What’s more, Philadelphia public schools – district and charter schools combined – employed nearly 1,200 fewer Black teachers in 2020-21 than they did 20 years ago, even as the number of teachers has increased for other race or ethnicity subgroups, according to findings in a new analysis from Research for Action (RFA).

“There is consensus in research, our classrooms and communities about the importance of Black teachers. Through authentic community-engaged research, Research for Action is working with community members to use research to create meaningful changes in policy and practice," said Kate Callahan, Executive Director, RFA. "The more than 80 community members who recently attended our Teach-In on the need for more teachers of color is proof positive that research can inspire action and change.” 

Compounding this issue is a nationwide decrease in people entering the teaching profession. From 2008-09 to 2017-18, the number of college students across the country entering teacher programs declined by 34 percent, and the number of students completing teacher preparation programs decreased by 30 percent. In Pennsylvania, since 2013, this decline is almost double the national percentage, with the number of people seeking teaching certification in Pennsylvania falling by more than 67 percent (Research for Action, 2020).

Fortunately, throughout Philadelphia, many leaders are facing these issues head on and are collaborating and building structures to recruit and retain teachers of color with the shared goal of transforming student achievement and success. The Center for Black Educator Development, based in Philly, is taking this issue national with the campaign We Need Black Teachers. Public school teachers in the United States are less racially diverse as a group than their students – and the diversity of the workforce has not kept pace with the rapid growth in the racial diversity of students, according to National Center for Education Statistics.

At the William Penn Foundation, a part of our Qualified Educators strategy is to support initiatives that diversify the teacher pipeline and pilot efforts that retain and promote high-quality teachers. Teachers are the most important in-school element in students’ learning. Schools need teachers who are responsive to the emerging needs of a diverse community of learners. The Foundation has supported several projects that focus on strengthening and maintaining teacher diversity, including the following:

  • The Center for Black Educator Development is expanding its Freedom Schools Literacy Academy, which provides high school and college students with experience teaching literacy to elementary students in grades 1-3 throughout the school year and during the summer.
  • Research for Action (RFA) is conducting a study to better understand the factors that have contributed to Black teacher attrition in Philadelphia and identify local strategies to increase educator diversity. RFA recently published a booklet, including an examination of how teacher diversity has changed in Philadelphia over the past 20 years, and held a Teach-In to highlight this issue.
  • The City of Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Education & Philadelphia School Partnership are collaborating to develop a citywide plan to address teacher shortages and ensure that our students have access to high quality and diverse teachers.


In tandem with initiatives to increase teacher diversity in our schools, we support efforts to better prepare all teachers with the cultural competency skills they need to better serve students whose racial or cultural background is different from theirs. A 2018 study funded by the Foundation revealed 72% of new Philadelphia teachers surveyed felt unprepared to work in a city classroom. The Foundation has supported:

  • The Center for Black Educator Development to create an online learning platform to support pre-service teachers to enhance their cultural competency skills and enter Philadelphia’s schools prepared to effectively understand, appreciate, and interact with their students. The Center will work with local colleges and universities to incorporate the online resources into their teacher preparation programs.
  • Pennsylvania Educator Diversity Consortium (PEDC) to plan the adoption and implementation of culturally responsive and sustaining competencies in teacher preparation programs across the Commonwealth. This project will address the cultural competency of the preparation programs themselves – to attract and retain more teacher candidates of color – as well as build these skills in all aspiring teachers.


“It is essential that we address how all people, but particularly people of color, experience learning, teaching, and leading within Pennsylvania schools. The culturally responsive and sustaining education (CRSE) competencies are important tools to help us do just that,” said Dr. Juliet Curci, Co-Director of PEDC. “Embedding the CRSE competencies into teacher preparation in Pennsylvania will mean that all future teachers will be better equipped to meet the needs of all learners and support them to thrive. This important work with pre-service teachers and their programs has implications for K-12 student success, school cultures, teacher retention, and, we hope, ecosystem change.”

“We at PEDC believe in a collective and collaborative approach to addressing the major challenges we face with educator diversity, equity, culturally relevant and sustaining education, and education systems,” said Dr. Donna-Marie Cole-Malott, Co-Director of PEDC. “We recognize that while the K-12 space is where we can see the discrepancies and mismatch between educators of color and students of color more clearly, the reality is that there are challenges throughout the entire structure of the education system, and we have taken on the work of addressing those challenges in a direct and intentional way as an organization. We know that many people, organizations, and institutions are also engaged in this work across the Commonwealth, but we know that success can only come if we do the work together.”

Recruiting and retaining more teachers of color is imperative, and we are grateful to the educators and leaders who have been calling attention to this need and creating momentum for change. Building on their work, this conversation will continue as the Mayor’s Office of Education’s local roadmap is completed and additional research is disseminated later this summer. We have learned that collaboration and a shared vision are key to enacting change of this scale. If you have ideas about how we can diversify the teacher workforce in Philadelphia and equip all teachers with the skills to support every student effectively, please reach out to us.


Photo collage above: Dr. Camika Royal (left) was the keynote speaker at the Teach-In hosted by Research for Action in Philadelphia on April 23, 2022. 

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