Recent research highlights the role unconscious bias plays in teacher expectations for students and suggests that having teachers who share their students’ racial and ethnic identity can help reduce such biases.

Back in 1990, among students of color, African-American students were most likely to have teachers of their own race — as 59 percent of students and 48 percent of teachers were black. There was a huge gap between Hispanic students — 26 percent of enrollment — and Hispanic teachers — 6 percent of enrollment.

White students were 12 percent of enrollment, while white teachers were almost four times that percentage — 44 percent of the citywide teaching force.

In the subsequent two decades, the percentage of black and Hispanic students gradually traded places, with Hispanics moving just barely ahead of African-Americans in 2011. Each group had about 43 percent of the student body, with whites logging in at 8.5 percent.

However, Hispanic teachers had grown, by 2012, to only 15 percent of the Chicago teaching force, while the percentage of African-American teachers had plummeted to 25 percent. The percentage of white teachers had risen to 48. [Editor’s note: we are using 2012 data for teachers because of an aberration in 2011 state report card data.]

  Black Hispanic White
Students 59% 26% 12%
Teachers 48% 6% 44%
Students 41% 45% 9%
Teachers 24% 19% 50%

Sources: CPS and Illinois state report card

The late 2000s were marked by teacher churn. Between 2008 and 2012, nearly half of the district’s teachers had left their schools. Hispanic teachers were more likely than white or black teachers to stay in the district. About two-thirds of both African-American and white teachers left the district over the four-year period.

Turnaround schools — where the entire staff is laid off and must reapply for jobs — were responsible for much of the churn. Prior to the changes, more than two-thirds of teachers in the 32 turnaround schools were African American; subsequently less than half were. In 2012, layoffs related to turnarounds cut 350 teacher positions.

In 2013, the district closed 49 schools, with African-American teachers again bearing the brunt of layoffs.

See “At Turnarounds, Revolving Door for Most Teachers,” Catalyst April 2014 and “Truth Squad: Enrollment down in CPS, but not by much,” WBEZ December 2012


The changes in the teaching force have led to a much whiter cadre of teachers in CPS. Last school year, half of the system’s 22,519 teachers were white, and less than one-quarter were African American. Though the percentage of Latino teachers in the system has climbed to the mid-teens, it still lags far behind the share of Latino students in the district.

The Chicago Teachers Union has filed two federal lawsuits charging the district discriminated against African-American teachers in its 2011 and 2012 layoffs. The 2012 layoffs were specifically related to turnarounds; the 2011 layoffs, which affected more teachers, were related to budget cuts. (According to CPS officials, the August 2015 round of 1,500 layoffs affected African-American teachers much less disproportionately than the earlier rounds.)

See “Enrollment data reveal trends for neighborhood schools, charter schools,” Catalyst October 2014 and “Black Teachers Hit Harder by CPS Layoffs,” Better Government Association, September 2, 2015


Two Chicago-based nonprofit organizations have been working for years to increase the ranks of teachers who come from low-income, minority communities: Grow Your Own Teachers and Golden Apple Scholars. However, getting to scale to meet the district’s needs has proven difficult.

After two years of planning and organizing, Grow Your Own Teachers launched in 2007 with a mission to train and place non-traditional teacher candidates, people who had delayed entering or returning to college and, in many cases, already worked in schools as security guards, paraprofessionals or parent volunteers. The organization provides support as participants work toward a bachelor’s degree in education.

According to executive director Kate Van Winkle, Grow Your Own has 108 graduates – 90 percent of whom are people of color — and 46 are working in CPS.

As of 2013, the Golden Apple Foundation had brought 600 teachers into CPS over 25 years through its Golden Apple Scholars program.  A competitive application process awards scholarships to talented Illinois high school and college students who plan to become teachers in high-need schools and provides support all along the way.

The Golden Apple Foundation, now celebrating its 30th anniversary, oversees the program and is ramping up its internal pipeline for the long term.  For 2016, Golden Apple will award scholarships to 250 students. (Applications are due in January.) By 2018, Golden Apple plans to double the size of its annual entering cohort, from 200 to 400 prospective teachers.

Once in the teaching profession, about 80 percent of past scholars have fulfilled their commitment to teach for five years in high-need schools, and many continue beyond the five-year mark, the foundation reports.

This story has been updated to remove outdated information about a Golden Apple Foundation contract with CPS. We apologize for the error.

See “Golden Apple to recruit, train teachers for South Side,” Catalyst September 2013 and “Why are Latino teachers such a minority in CPS?” WBEZ July 2015

Freelancer Maureen Kelleher's work has appeared in Education Week and the Harvard Education Letter. She was an associate editor with Catalyst Chicago from 1998-2006.

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