Representation helps strengthen communities and improve student outcomes in elementary, middle, and high schools. Representation means that teachers, principals, and other leaders reflect the demographics of the student body in the schools they serve. A Johns Hopkins University study provides evidence for just how much representation matters in student outcomes, reporting that black students are 13 percent more likely to enter college if they had at least one black teacher by the third grade. The likelihood of college enrollment more than doubles (32 percent) for black students with at least two black teachers in elementary school, according to the study.

Debates about the inequities and gaps in the US education system and how to address them are ongoing. One strategy of academic leaders and school districts is to hire teachers who reflect students’ racial and cultural identities.

Life at Low-Performing Schools

According to the US Department of Education (DOE), low-performing schools are those that rank in the bottom 10 percent in their state. Students in low-performing school districts show significant academic achievement gaps. These schools tend to have large student populations with low-income backgrounds and a high number of minorities.

Students with a history of poverty may have challenges outside of school that impact their academic success, like taking care of their younger siblings or dealing with a lack of food, water, and heat in their homes, to name a few. Their counterparts in affluent schools face fewer struggles.

Another issue at play is unequal school funding. Consider that high-poverty school districts get $1,200 less per student than affluent schools, according to an EdTrust report. These deficits hurt students by depriving them of opportunities to learn at the same level as their counterparts. Smaller budgets mean less access to resources and technology critical for STEM-related subjects such as mathematics and technology.

Low-performing schools also struggle with high turnover rates among teachers and administrators. These schools must demonstrate academic improvements or school administrators might lose their jobs. As for teachers, many leave the profession or move to different school districts, and, on many occasions, inexperienced teachers fill the open roles.

Often, teachers and students don’t share similar backgrounds, especially in high-poverty school districts with large minority student populations. This means that minority students rarely have teachers who look like them or share their life experience. However, increased representation, or having more teachers of the same race and with similar backgrounds as their students, has proven to improve academic performance.

For example, a recent study published by the Institute of Labor Economics noted that 39 percent of black male students who had to a black teacher in elementary school remain in high school.