Increasing teacher diversity requires a multi-pronged strategy

Guest blog by Lynn Olson, Senior Fellow at FutureEd

A host of research studies have found that when students of color have teachers of color, their rates of attendance, academic achievement, and college enrollment improve.

Yet while students of color comprise more than 50% of public school enrollment nationally — a share expected to grow steadily in the years ahead — nearly 80% of teachers are white.

FutureEd’s recent report, Teachers Like Us: Strategies for Increasing Educator Diversity in Public Schools, examines both the barriers to a more diverse teaching force and the most promising steps that school districts, states, and teacher-preparation programs can take to bring more teachers of color into classrooms and encourage them to stay in the profession.

A comprehensive strategy is the best strategy. Here’s how to pursue diversity in several ways simultaneously:

  • Create actionable data, goals, and targets. States should make data about educator diversity more visible and actionable. Set and prioritize measurable goals around recruiting, training, and hiring candidates of color and provide transparent data at the state, district, and school levels, and for individual teacher preparation programs. Tennessee, for example, requires districts to set goals and strategies for getting more teachers of color into classrooms, submit their plans to the state Department of Education, and report annually on how they’re doing. The state’s Educator Preparation Report Card gives each teacher-prep program an overall score and several sub-scores, including one based in part on the percentage of program graduates who are people of color.
  • Start early. Increase early outreach to students of color by creating and scaling programs that let students explore a teaching career beginning in middle and high school, through early college high schools, career academies focused on teaching,, P-Tech programs, and dual enrollment and Grow Your Own At least 21 states — including Delaware, Kentucky, and Tennessee — have passed laws in the past five years explicitly allowing, creating, or funding Grow Your Own programs.
  • Target scholarships and loan-forgiveness programs. Cover or reimburse teachers for the costs of their preparation programs through federal and state service scholarships, grants, and loan forgiveness programs candidates of color. Arkansas, for example, has a loan assistance program for prospective teachers and a scholarship program to support Black, Hispanic, Asian-American, and Native American students attending public or private higher education institutions in the state.
  • Deepen support for minority-serving institutions. At the federal level, leaders should continue support for the Hawkins Centers of Excellence, which just received $18 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education. States should use one-time budget allocations and performance-based funding models to bolster support for teacher-prep programs in institutions that largely serve Black, indigenous, and other people of color. States should review their existing policies and practices to ensure they do not favor predominantly white institutions over MSIs. North Carolina recently expanded its Teaching Fellows Program, which provides scholarships for students to pursue an education degree to three MSIs in the state along with other colleges and universities. The state also expanded a program that provides reduced tuition for students in teacher-prep programs at public colleges and universities to include four MSIs.
  • Expand pathways into teaching that support high-quality, diverse candidates. Invest in Grow Your Own programs at the federal, state, and local levels, including partnerships among school districts, community colleges, and four-year institutions that provide clear pathways into teaching for more candidates of color. Expand teacher residencies and registered teacher apprenticeships that allow candidates to begin working in schools under a qualified mentor-teacher while completing their coursework. These residencies and apprenticeships are particularly promising avenues for candidates of color to receive extensive clinical preparation and earn a salary as they learn to teach. Tennessee received S. Department of Labor approval in 2021 for its registered apprenticeship programs for teachers. Texas has directed some of its federal COVID-19 federal pandemic relief funding to expand teacher residencies.
  • Increase the rates of candidates of color who pass licensing exams. Teacher preparation programs help aspiring teachers of color prepare for the state licensing exams, which candidates of color typically fail at higher rates than their white peers. States can maintain high standards for how teachers are prepared and licensed while exploring alternative options for prospective teachers to show their knowledge and qualifications for the classroom. Virginia has appropriated $100,000 over two years to prepare provisionally licensed teachers of color for licensure exams.
  • Prioritize hiring, recruiting, and placement for teachers of color. States must increase their focus on recruiting, hiring, and placing candidates of color. Additional resources can be provided to high-needs schools and districts that struggle to provide a strong, diverse teaching force for students of color and those from low-income families. Use district- and school-level data to ensure more students have at least one teacher of color during their K-12 education.
  • Retain more teachers of color. Provide leadership opportunities and clear career pathways for teachers of color and pay them for the additional work. Connect teachers of color with their peers nationally and locally through paid, cohort-based mentoring and professional learning opportunities. Prepare, hire, and support more school leaders of color, and help all school leaders and teacher colleagues to create inclusive, culturally affirming learning environments for students and educators alike. Use surveys and exit interviews that may signal inhospitable working environments for educators of color and seek solutions.

States and districts can tap into federal COVID-recovery funds for this work. Tennessee and Texas, for example, have used relief funds to begin innovative teacher-preparation programs focused on candidates of color. Relief funding can also be used for mentoring programs and a range of other diversity-enhancing strategies.

By diversifying the teaching profession, states and school districts will likely find that tapping into additional pools of talent can be an increasingly powerful driver of student success.

Lynn Olson is author of the FutureEd report Teachers Like Us: Strategies for Increasing Educator Diversity.