Latino Teachers Matter. A New Study Reveals How Important They Really Are

By: Dr. Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon and Dr. Travis J. Bristol

New Blog Template-10 Feliza Bristol

Latino students make up 27 percent of the K-12 student population nationwide, and in districts like New York and Los Angeles Unified, they make up 40 percent and 75 percent of all enrolled students, respectively. Given the historical significance and steady growth of the Latino student population, many would assume there is ample data and research on the importance of educator diversity and the impact of representation on the academic outcomes, school culture, and opportunities afforded to Latino students.  Unfortunately that is not the case. 

Until now, little research had been conducted on the quality of school culture experienced by Latino students and the effects of punitive discipline policies on this student population. 

A recent study by Drs. Matthew Shirrell (George Washington University), Travis J. Bristol (University of California, Berkeley), and Tolani Britton (University of California, Berkeley), however, starts to shed light on this topic by looking at the ways in which matching Latino educators with Latino students impacts disciplinary outcomes, specifically suspension rates. Afterall, the research shows that approximately one in five Latinx male students is suspended before they enter high school and school suspensions lead to lower student outcomes and a higher dropout rate. Therefore, it’s important to examine what is driving these disproportionately high rates of suspensions for Latino students and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.

The study draws on 10 years of data on students and teachers in the largest urban school system in the United States, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), to answer the following research question: Does student-teacher ethnoracial matching impact the likelihood or severity of exclusionary discipline for Latinx students in a large, diverse, urban school district?

The study reveals two important trends.

Representation Matters. Latinos for Education has made educator diversity a cornerstone of the organization’s Latino Action Agenda because research affirms the positive outcomes of ethnoracial matching between educators of color and students of color. As demonstrated by the study, Latino students are less likely to be suspended when they are taught by Latino teachers. If New York schools would have hired more Latino teachers during that 10 year period and matched them with Latino students then we might have seen 1,600 fewer suspensions for Latino students.  This is an important data point considering that Latino students accounted for 40 percent of all suspensions during the 10-year period.

Latino teachers are good for all students. The longitudinal study also showed that suspension rates for Black students also decreased when they were matched with Latino teachers. While the impact for Black students is highest when matched with Black educators, it’s important to note that educators of color overall are able to bring more nuanced and culturally informed approaches to their classroom, which informs whether or not they decide to recommend suspension or other punitive measures when teaching students of color.

The study also points to important interventions and actions that education leaders and policymakers can take if they are serious about improving student outcomes for Latino students. These recommendations include the following:

  1. Latino teachers matter and schools districts across the country must do more to hire Latino teachers. The disparity between Latino students and Latino teachers is significant considering that 27 percent of all students nationally are Latino, but only 9 percent of educators are Latino. This study adds to the growing body of research that shows the positive impact and outcomes that result when we have more Latino teachers in the classroom. Not only are Latino students able to thrive and stay connected to their education, but all students benefit.
  2. Until we get more parity between Latino students and Latino educators, school districts must invest in cultural competency training for all educators, including the largest share of the workforce, white teachers. Equipping all educators, regardless of race or ethnicity, with the tools they need to be better allies, examine their own biases, suspend judgment and employ restorative justice practices in their classrooms will actually help all students, but especially students of color.
  3. Collect and share more data. School districts with significant enrollment of students of color need to do more to understand what opportunity gaps exist that might prevent these students from achieving their full potential, and that begins by collecting and being transparent about data.  Funders and policymakers who care about education and student equity should invest in research that looks at what happens when these opportunity gaps exist and what are the best strategies to close the opportunity gaps that so many students of color face in our nation’s education system.


Dr. Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon is the Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer at Latinos for Education where she leads the organization’s policymaking and advocacy efforts to eliminate barriers to equitable, educational opportunities for Latino students. Prior to joining Latinos for Education, Feliza served as the Principal of Education Programs at UnidosUS; the largest civil rights & advocacy organization for Latinos in the United States. In 2015, she was appointed to the CA State Board of Education to serve and represent 6.2 million students. Feliza has deep expertise in leadership development, policy, program design, coalition-building, and fundraising. 

Dr. Travis J. Bristol is an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. Before joining Berkeley’s faculty, he was a Peter Paul Assistant Professor at Boston University. Dr. Bristol’s research is situated at the intersection of educational policy and teacher education. He is a former student and teacher in New York City public schools and teacher educator with the Boston Teacher Residency program. Dr. Bristol received his A.B. from Amherst College; an M.A. from Stanford University; and a Ph.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University.

** Drs. Matthew Shirrell (George Washington University) and Tolani Britton (University of California, Berkeley) contributed to this blog