Research shows that teachers of color help close achievement gaps for students of color and are highly rated by students of all races – a fact that is relevant in light of the release this month of data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
This year’s NAEP results show persistent achievement gaps between students of color and from low-income families and their peers who are White or from more affluent families. Although more teachers of color are being recruited across the nation, the pace of increase is slow and attrition rates are high, leaving growing gaps between the demand for such teachers and the supply.
These are among the findings in a new report by the Learning Policy Institute that examined national data and recent research on the barriers teachers of color face to both entering and staying in the profession. It includes recommendations intended to help policymakers increase teacher workforce diversity – an especially important strategy to advance greater cultural understanding and combat persistent achievement gaps in the United States.
The report, Diversifying the Teaching Profession: How to Recruit and Retain Teachers of Color, by LPI researcher Desiree Carver Thomas, finds that while the population of teachers of color overall is growing, Black and Native American teachers are a declining share of the teacher workforce and the gap between the percentage of Latinx teachers and students is larger than for any other racial or ethnic group. The report also examines how the lack of diversity in the teaching workforce impacts students, and offers district and state policy solutions.
“Increasing teacher diversity is a very important strategy for improving learning for students of color and for closing achievement gaps,” said LPI President and Stanford professor emeritus, Linda Darling-Hammond. “While White students also benefit by learning from teachers of color, the impact is especially significant for students of color, who have higher test scores, are more likely to graduate high school, and more likely to succeed in college when they have had teachers of color who serve as role models and support their attachment to school and learning. Students with racially diverse teachers also have fewer unexcused absences and are less likely to be chronically absent.”
Among the findings are:
• Teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color, including improved reading and math test scores, improved graduation rates, and increases in aspirations to attend college.
• Teachers of color are resources for students in hard-to-staff schools. Many teachers of color report feeling called to teach in low-income communities of color where positions are often difficult to fill. Indeed, three in four teachers of color work in the quartile of schools serving the most students of color nationally.
• Greater diversity of teachers may mitigate feelings of isolation, frustration, and fatigue that can contribute to individual teachers of color leaving the profession when they feel they are alone.
Barriers to recruiting
Barriers to recruitment include:
• Inadequate teacher preparation when teachers enter through alternative routes and try to teach while they are in training, along with lack of ongoing support for new teachers, can drive high turnover rates.
• Teacher licensure exams that disproportionately exclude teacher candidates of color despite little evidence that these exams predict teacher effectiveness.
• Poor working conditions and low salaries that discourage teachers from staying in their schools and in the profession.
• Displacement from the high-need schools they teach in, where accountability strategies have often resulted in staff reconstitution or closing schools rather than investing in improvements.
Increasing the number of teachers of color requires intentional preparation and hiring, providing ongoing support, and addressing college affordability. Many programs and initiatives across the country provide evidence that an intentional and sustained approach to recruiting and retaining teachers of color can build a diverse and stable teacher workforce. Promising practices include:
1. High-retention, supportive pathways into teaching.
• Implementing Grow Your Own programs at the district level that recruit teacher candidates from nontraditional populations (e.g., high school students, paraprofessionals, and after-school program staff). States can support these programs through university-based partnerships and other financial and programmatic policies.
• Providing state funding for intensive teacher preparation support programs offering ongoing mentorship, tutoring, exam stipends, job placement services and other supports to ensure teachers of color successfully complete preparation programs.
2. Hiring and induction strategies.
• Hiring earlier in the year. Research suggests that more in-demand candidates of color may be available for hire earlier in the year. Districts can offer incentives for teachers to announce their resignation, retirement, and transfer intentions in early spring so that they can recruit new hires earlier in the season.
• Partnering with local teacher preparation programs, including those at minority-serving institutions, to coordinate student teaching placements and vet candidates for hire before they graduate.
• Offering comprehensive induction to support teachers of color in their first years of teaching. Induction often includes being matched with a veteran mentor teacher and can also include seminars, classroom assistance, time to collaborate with other teachers, among other items.
3. Improve school teaching conditions through improved school leadership.
• Supporting improved principal preparation at the state level by strengthening program accreditation and licensure standards to ensure that principals have clinical experiences in schools with diverse students and staff and learn to create collaborative, supportive work environments for the teachers with whom they work.
• Providing ongoing professional learning opportunities for school leaders to develop the skills to support teachers effectively.
More information can be accessed at the Learning Policy Institute website at learningpolicyinstitute.org.