Data nerdom

Paraeducators could be the key to increasing Washington State teacher diversity




  • The vast majority of Washington’s teachers are white (89%). Almost half of the student body are students of color (46%).

  • Studies show that students benefit from a diverse teaching workforce.

  • Helping paraeducators become fully certified teachers can help reduce educator shortages and increase the number of bilingual teachers and teachers of color.

  • Washington is a nationwide leader in paraprofessional teacher training.



In Washington, the vast majority of the teaching workforce is white (89%), while the student body is increasingly made up of students of color (46%). As covered by the Seattle Times and Columbia Reporter in a multi-part investigative series, school districts across the state are struggling to employ teachers that reflect the demographics of their students.


Research proves the numerous positive effects of a diverse teaching workforce. For instance, The Seattle Times noted a study which showed that low-income, black boys who were taught by at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 were almost 40% less likely to drop out of high school and showed a stronger interest in attending college. 

Teachers of color also help ensure that students of color are receiving the services they deserve. A recent study showed that African-American children are three times as likely to be placed in gifted education programs if they have a black teacher rather than a white teacher. This benefit is especially relevant in Seattle Public Schools where the Highly Capable Cohort is disproportionately white.  

It is clear the state needs to be working to diversify their current teaching workforce. But how?  



We took a look at Washington education workforce data and it shows that paraeducators could help Washington diversify its K-12 faculty (most recently available data is from 2015/16).     

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The above graph shows that the proportion of paraeducators of color is nearly double that of teachers. Additionally, developing teachers who already live and work in the school’s community is an important strategy for reducing the educator shortages that exist across Washington state.



Washington state is a leader in new initiatives to build paraprofessional-to-teacher pipelines (see reports from New America and The Learning Policy Institute at Stanford).  Communities across Washington have implemented “Grow Your Own” programs, which recruit, train, and support potential teachers from communities that school districts serve. For instance, Highline School District runs a program that serves bilingual paraprofessionals and helps them achieve an elementary education endorsement.

The State of Washington Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB), released a report highlighting the early success and potential of Grow Your Own (GYO) programs in Washington and across the United States. In part by designing programs to serve paraprofessionals, Colorado and Illinois were able to increase their statewide teacher roster by 166 and 150 respectively over the past 4-5 years, with more candidates in the pipeline.


What’s Next?   

Grow Your Own programs are a good start to increasing paraeducator training. From our review of the research and current programs, we’ve compiled a few additional recommendations to strengthen paraprofessional pipelines:

  • Create career connected learning for paras and aspiring paraeducators (including high school students) to create an educator industry pathway.

o   For instance, the Academy for Rising Educators (ARE) is a new program created through partnership between Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Central College, and the City of Seattle’s Seattle Promise Scholarship. It gives Seattle Public Schools juniors and seniors the opportunity to take courses and participate in internships that fulfill prerequisite requirements for becoming a paraprofessional.

  • Include paraprofessionals in aligned professional development, evaluation, and career ladder systems to recognize their contributions and set them on a path toward full accreditation.  

  • Expand alternative teacher licensure and certification that utilize performance and competency-based approaches especially for paraprofessionals who already have a BA and teaching experience. (The last two recommendations were suggested by bilingual paraeducators in focus groups conducted by New America)


Finally, it’s important to call out that paraeducator training is only one lever to increase teacher diversity. To reach teacher-student demographic parity, we must continue to support students of color to complete high school and to graduate from postsecondary educator training programs. And similar to issues in the private sector, school districts should continue work to dismantle barriers and biases within their hiring processes.

Is everyone and their mom on a non-profit board?



  • There are over 38,000 non-profits in Washington, with over 6,000 in Seattle

  • 69% of WA non-profits do not have annual revenue

  • We estimate 5% and 7% of Washington and Seattle adults, respectively serve on a non-profit board

In our day-to-day work (and as board members ourselves), we run into a lot of people who serve as non-profit board members. This led us to wonder: just how many people serve on boards actually?

In order to answer this question, we needed to know the full scope of the non-profit sector in Washington. According to IRS data on tax-exempt organizations from February 2019, there are over 38,000 tax-exempt, non-profit organizations in Washington.  Of these, over 6,000 are in Seattle.


We also looked at how non-profits vary by revenue, with a working hypothesis that greater revenue equates to larger boards.  (We also thought you would be interested, dear reader, in the revenue distribution).  Interesting finding: only 31% of Washington non-profits had positive revenue, based on most recent tax filings (something to investigate in a future post!)

Contrary to our initial thinking, board membership did not vary greatly by revenue size.  According to a 2017 BoardSource Survey, the average non-profit board has 15 members, with about 14 board members on average for non-profits with revenue below $1 million and 17 members for those above $1 million.

Now to answer our original question.  To calculate the proportion of the population on a board, we can take a weighted average of board membership by revenue, multiplied by the number of non-profits.  If we assume that the average board member serves on two boards and divide by the adult population of Washington and Seattle, respectively, we get the following:


(One caveat from the analysis above – this assumes non-profit boards with $0 or negative annual revenue have equal board sizes to organizations with revenue.  One could make an argument that non-revenue generating non-profits would have smaller boards, which would imply a slightly lower proportion of the population on boards.)

Point / Counter-point

After reading the BoardSource analysis (referenced above), our team starting talking about what the right board size is – are there too many or too few people serving on boards?  We didn’t come to a consensus in the end, but thought it was worth sharing our thoughts as you, the folks playing at home, form your own opinions.

Here’s the SparkNotes version of our conversation:

Marc’s take: too many people on boards

At its core, a board of directors ensures robust governance (e.g. fiduciary responsibilities) and provides support to the organization’s leader(s).  These are big responsibilities that require each prospective and current board member to evaluate whether their personal and professional lives, along with the talents they possess, can add value to a board.  In my opinion, too many people serve on boards who are more interested in the resume building and networking opportunities, or in making themselves feel like a good citizen, than the hard work of governance and leader support.  Seeing the results from this analysis reminds me of the folks who may not be serving on boards for the right reasons.

Andy’s take: too few people on boards

Similar to corporate boards, non-profit boards should include diverse voices and perspectives, and should ensure sufficient representation from the communities they serve.  Too often though, boards are led by a majority white (often male) panel that looks nothing like the organization’s constituency.  According to the same 2017 BoardSource report, only 16% of board members identify as a person of color.  (I say this recognizing my own position as a white male who serves on a non-profit board.)  If we assume that the majority of board members serve for the “right” reasons and are adding value (per Marc’s comments above), then executive directors and board chairs should consider increasing their board size to make sure diverse, community voices are included.


What’s your take?  Drop us a note at or leave a comment below to continue the conversation.

Until next time.