"There are additional benefits to teachers who are diverse and understand diverse backgrounds," Farah Ahmad, one of the report's lead authors, said during a phone interview, "who can be cultural brokers for students who don't necessarily have role models in their lives."
That connection isn't just warm-fuzzy; it can drive measurable student improvement. Black and Hispanic students lag their white peers on national tests and graduation rates. And while increasing teacher diversity is not a cure-all, studies have shown that diversifying teachers can improve student performance by several percentage points.
A black male teacher isn't an abstract idea to the boys at Vilson's school. He's standing in front of them, a willing mentor.
"It's not so much that I think teachers of color ought to teach children of color," he said. "But there is something to be said for a diversity of adults to match the diversity of children we're seeing."
Before Brown v. Board of Education, when schools were blatantly segregated, African-American schools had African-American teachers while white schools had white teachers. But when schools integrated, the report notes, often by busing black students to white neighborhoods, many African-American teachers lost their jobs.
Since then, the teacher pool has been largely white. To diversify, we'd have to persuade more minority students to pursue and maintain teaching careers, and the report indicates that may be no easy task.
Right now, according to the report, students of color choose majors outside education because of meager pay and what they say is a lack of respect for teachers. Those who do enroll score lower on average than their non-minority peers on licensure exams that serve as a gateway to teaching careers. They are also more likely to carry student loan debt and to struggle financially to afford the fifth year of higher education that many teaching credential programs require.
"People of color who are coming into these professions don't always have that monetary foundation to be able to say, 'I want to take on teaching,' " Vilson said.
Compound the financial and student debt struggles these students face with cultural pressure from parents to become doctors and lawyers, Vilson said, then add in the fact that many minorities experienced negative teacher interaction growing up, and it's no wonder that getting minorities into teaching is a struggle.
For those who do make it to the classroom, teachers of color are disproportionately likely to teach in poor urban schools where funding is tighter and support can be harder to come by. The report cites National Center for Education Statistics data that show a teacher salary discrepancy of up to $16,000 between high- and low-poverty districts.
It's no surprise, then, that minority teachers are disproportionately likely to ditch the profession for another career path.