More than half of U.S. states now have minority teacher recruitment policies or programs, according to research completed recently by Richard Ingersoll and Henry May, both of Penn's Graduate School of Education.
But after studying two decades' worth of census and U.S. Department of Education data, Ingersoll and May concluded the teaching force is much more diverse than it was 20 years ago. In many ways, the minority teacher recruitment push has been successful.
Overall, the researchers found, growth in the number of minority teachers was much greater than growth in the number of nonminority teachers - there was a 41 percent growth rate for white teachers, and a 96 percent growth rate for minority teachers.
The number of minority teachers has surged to 642,000 from 325,000 since the late 1980s.
Still, make no mistake - a gap persists between the percentage of minority students and the percentage of minority teachers. In the 2008-09 school year, 41 percent of elementary and secondary students were members of a minority, but just 16.5 percent of elementary and secondary teachers were. So what's the problem?
Turnover has been a major issue for minority teachers, more than for their white counterparts. In 2003-04, for instance, 47,600 minority teachers entered the profession, but by the next school year, 56,000 had left teaching.
"These data convey an image of a revolving door: too many going in one door and out another," Ingersoll and Rand wrote.
Minority teachers most often work in city public schools that educate mostly poor and minority children - schools that are traditionally the toughest to staff.
Poor working conditions are often what drive teachers out.
There is a fix, Ingersoll and May said. "The data suggest that poor, high-minority urban schools that improve these working conditions will be far more able to retain their minority teachers and to address their shortages."
Easier said than done, of course, but the improvements don't necessarily have to cost cash-strapped districts money. Teachers want autonomy in their classrooms and input in schoolwide decisions. They want to feel like valued professionals - and that doesn't cost a dime.