As Pennsylvania’s student population grows more diverse, there’s a growing gap between the proportions of students of color and teachers of color, according to new data.

Last year, 48% of all Pennsylvania schools employed no teachers of color. Even in cities such as Philadelphia, where more than half of the teachers of color work, there are 1,200 fewer Black teachers than there were 20 years ago, according to data from Research For Action

Further study on the reasons for the trend is needed, but David Lapp, Research for Action’s director of policy research, said it should be a wakeup call for education leaders and policymakers.

“Pennsylvania stands out among the country for being one of the most inequitable school systems in the country,” he said. “Because of that, our outcomes are among the most inequitable in the country, and if we can fix those things, we’ll see – eventually – more students entering into the teaching force, and staying in the teaching force.”

He said Research For Action is conducting a study of Black teachers in Philadelphia to better understand what may be pushing them out of the classroom. Pennsylvania offered “Aspiring to Educate,” a teacher diversity pilot program for high school and college students, in 2020.

The new data was released as part of an inaugural “teach-in” recently hosted at FDR Park in Philadelphia. The event brought community members, scholars, school leaders and students together to discuss systemic barriers to jobs in education.

Saxon Nelson, director of community engagement for Research For Action, said the benefits of having teachers of color in the classroom go beyond racial representation.

“People have spoken a lot about students of color having representation right in front of the classroom and how that opens windows and doors for them, from thinking to opportunities,” he said. “But I think it’s a big revelation to truly sit and understand that the white students in class are also impacted on the positive as well.”

Nelson said his group plans to host another teach-in next year. He added that some strategies that could bolster the diversity of teachers in the state include a focus on retention, and lowering the grade-point average requirement for teacher preparation programs.