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Report Highlights One Reason Black Teachers May Leave Wisconsin Classrooms: Trust Issues

Emily Files
Devon Weber leads a class at Milwaukee College Prep's 38th Street campus in September 2018. Weber participated in a program aimed at increasing teacher diversity by training education assistants to become classroom teachers.

A new report from a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researcher highlights one reason African American teachers may leave classrooms: trust issues in the work environment.

Surveys taken at the end of the 2016-17 show that African American teachers have lower perceptions of trust with other teachers, and white teachers are less trusting of African American principals.

“We found that African American teachers across the board reported lower levels of trust between teachers in their school, and this was regardless of context,” Curtis Jones, a senior scientist and education researcher at UWM, told WUWM’s Lake Effect. “And white teachers reported lower levels of trust with principals of color and with more diverse teaching groups in a school.” 

Read: Same Race Teachers: MPS Students & Teachers Weigh In 

Jones connected the survey results with state data on teacher retention. Jones found that teachers who expressed lower levels of trust were more likely to leave their school.

Jones also identified a significant "retention gap" between white and black teachers. Data on teachers working in Wisconsin public schools from the 2016-17 school year to the 2018-19 school year show that nearly half of African American teachers had changed schools, and 17.5% left public education altogether. New teachers were even more at risk of leaving their school or public education.

Credit Curtis Jones / UWM Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education
UWM Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education
This graph from Curtis Jones' 'Race, Relational Trust, and Teacher Retention in Wisconsin Schools' report, shows the racial retention gap for Wisconsin teachers.

“[The study] helps identify that we can’t just focus on diversifying the pipeline. We also have to focus specifically on retention,” said Katie Rainey, director of educator development and support at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “There’s something happening within that first two years that is significantly impacting those educators in a way that’s different than their white colleagues.”

DPI works with researchers like Jones as part of the Wisconsin Educator Effectiveness Research Partnership. Rainey hopes this latest report will prompt DPI to find ways to address why teachers of color leave schools at a higher rate. “Diversifying the workforce is one of the key aspects [DPI leaders] have been talking about, so we’ve asked them to also consider retention.”

The retention numbers matter, UWM's Jones emphasizes, because research shows that students of color benefit academically when they have teachers of their same race.

Credit Curtis Jones / UWM Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education
UWM Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education
Jones analyzed state data to show retention by race over a six-year period.

Wisconsin already has a major mismatch between its students and teachers – only 3.9% of classroom teachers identify as black or Latinx, compared to 21.4% of students, Jones points out in his analysis. If you exclude Milwaukee Public Schools from the picture, only .6% of teachers are African American and 1.3% are Latinx.

Read: To Build More Diverse Teacher Pool, Milwaukee Programs Tap Teaching Assistants

“Because of the scarcity of teachers of color across the state, 86% of all Wisconsin schools do not have any African American teachers and 83% do not have any Latinx teachers. Only 10 schools across the state do not have any students of color,” Jones writes in the report.

By some measures, Wisconsin has the largest achievement gap between black and white students. Jones says hiring and retaining more diverse teachers is one possible solution to close the gap.  

WUWM reporters are interested in hearing from black and Latinx teachers to talk about their experiences working in Wisconsin schools – and whether this research resonates with what they’ve seen. You can reach Education Reporter Emily Files at files@uwm.edu.

Have a question about education you'd like WUWM's Emily Files to dig into? Submit it below.


Emily does education reporting as well as general news editing at WUWM.