On Thursday, May 7, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) co-sponsored an hour-long webinar, in which researchers, policy makers, and practitioners shared best practices and strategies for increasing the racial/ethnic diversity of the country’s teaching force.
As discussed during the webinar, a racially and ethnically diverse teaching force is important for several reasons. First, in this flat, or interconnected, world, our children need a diverse teaching force to prepare them to be global citizens. Second, teachers of color are positioned to serve as role models and cultural brokers for children of color, who account for 50.2 percent of all U.S. public school students (NCES, 2015). Despite this diverse student population, Latino, Black, Asian, and Native American teachers comprise only 17.3% of all teachers (Ingersoll, Merrill & Stuckey, 2014). Third, several large-scale studies point to increased learning -- as measured by a standardized exam -- for students when they have a teacher of the same race (Dee, 2001; Egalite, Kisida,& Winters, 2015); Not discussed at the time, but equally important, is the fact that a diverse teaching force challenges the assumption that some of the qualities needed most by high-quality, effective teachers -- intelligence, intellectual curiosity, and deep content knowledge -- are difficult to find in large supply amongst individuals of color seeking to enter the teaching profession.
We are well aware that merely increasing the number of teachers of color will not address the historic and systematic disenfranchisement of communities of color and the schools that Latino, Black, Asian, and Native American children attend. However, we do know that many policy makers, practitioners, and researchers see teacher diversity as one important lever that is part of a larger, more comprehensive effort to improve the academic and social outcomes of our children who stand at the margins. So, as discussed during the webinar, we offer the following recommendations to stakeholders looking to increase the racial/ethnic diversity of America’s teacher workforce.
Retention: Districts Must Focus on Retaining Teachers of Color
Currently, teachers of color are two to three times more likely to be concentrated in high-poverty, high-minority urban public schools with the most challenging working conditions (Ingersoll, Merrill, & Stuckey, 2014) which is likely the reason there are higher rates of turnover when compared to their White colleagues. School districts must give as much attention to recruiting teachers of color as they do to retaining teachers of color. Attention to improved resources, teacher autonomy, and improved administrative leadership of these schools can begin to stop this “leaky bucket,” or the high rate of attrition for teachers of color.
We encourage district human resource offices to gather data on the schools in which teachers of color teach. Districts should also disaggregate teacher surveys and turnover rates by race and gender. Moreover, national (i.e. the School and Staffing Survey), state, and district surveys should include questions that ask teachers to report on their experiences as it relates to gender, race, and sexuality.
Support: Teachers of Color Need Differentiated Professional Development
As district and school leaders encourage teachers to design differentiated learning experiences in their classrooms to address the unique needs of their students, they must also do the same for teachers of color. High levels of attrition are a result of deep-rooted frustration by teachers of color, who have much to offer both within and beyond the classroom and school, but also are frequently expected to be disciplinarians who must “control” children others are unable to control. There are several examples of what these differentiated professional development sessions might look like.
A recent gathering for male teachers of color, supported by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans at the U.S. Department of Education, as well as Convenings  organized by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation for its Rockefeller Brother Fund (WW-RBF) Aspiring Teachers of Color, are models for providing a space for teachers of color to improve practice, have their voices heard, and have their experiences normalized.
Recruitment: Teacher Preparation Programs and Foundations Must Invest in Teacher Diversity
If the pipeline of teachers of color is to increase, teacher preparation programs must play an active role. Currently, alternative certification programs, such as Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows, are the largest suppliers of teachers of color for our public schools (AACTE, 2013; NCEI, 2011). These programs provide teacher certification at little cost to pre-service teachers. If deans at schools of education say that they see value in diversifying the racial/ethnic composition of our country’s teachers, they must be as committed to raising funds to support faculty projects as they are to providing fellowships to teacher candidates of color. One example of this commitment is a recent scholarship established by Dean Marvin Lynn at the University of Indiana South Bend. Dean Mary Brabek at New York University also prioritized teacher diversity by establishing six tuition-free scholarships for WW-RBF Fellows to attend Steinhardt’s School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
Foundations must also play an integral role in increasing teacher diversity. The WW-RBF Fellowship for Aspiring Teachers of Color is the sole nationally-focused program committed to recruiting, preparing, and retaining teachers of color in the nation’s high need public school classrooms. The Fellowship provides a $30,000 stipend to support the preparation of high-performing recently graduated students of color as teachers. Fellows are nominated and selected through a rigorous selection process and are provided with three years of mentoring support when they enter the profession as teachers of record in high need urban and rural classrooms. The Fellowship plays a critical role in ensuring students of color can pursue an MA in education and receive a teaching credential.
Finally, it is not our belief that children of color can and should only learn from teachers of color. Rather, public schools need a teaching pool that is more reflective of the population of students. Students of color will benefit -- as will all students -- from seeing and knowing that individuals from varied racial and ethnic backgrounds can and do have the potential and desire to excel in academic institutions. Sadly, this is a needed intervention for many students of color who, for myriad reasons, may doubt their abilities to be academically successful.
Moreover, ensuring greater numbers of teachers of color in all schools has the potential to disconfirm the unconscious stereotypes about intellectual capacity of people of color in general and about teachers of color more specifically. If we are serious about improving outcomes for students of color, it is time to make this a part of our strategy. The policy recommendations above can begin to provide stakeholders with concrete strategies for increasing the racial/ethnic diversity of our country’s teaching force.
Our guest authors today are Audra Watson, Travis Bristol, Terrenda White and Jose Vilson. Watson is Program Officer and Director of Mentoring and Induction Strategy at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Bristol is a Research and Policy Fellow at Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. White is Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist in New York City, NY.