Because of how Covid-19 has devastated the U.S. education system, many see this time as a unique opportunity to galvanize state and local education systems to enact large-scale changes. Bellwether Education Partners believes that one such transformation should be how state and local education agencies recruit and retain Black and Hispanic teachers. To accomplish this, authors of one of its recent reports urge states and districts to invest newfound American Rescue Plan (ARP) dollars into five initiatives.
The report begins by highlighting the abundance of research supporting the benefits of diversity within the teaching workforce, especially for underserved students of color. Bellwether shares research findings such as non-White teachers having higher expectations for students of color, students of color performing better in schools where there is at least one teacher of the same race as them, and Black teacher retention being higher in schools with diverse workforces. Unfortunately, the teacher-student race gap is significant across America. Eighty percent of U.S. public school teachers are White compared to less than half of public school students. The report acknowledges that this statistic is simplistic and provides a state-by-state breakdown of the race-gap to show how it varies by region.
To narrow the gap, the report proposes five ARP eligible initiatives that the authors believe would diversify two stages of the teacher pipeline: increasing the number of Black and Hispanic teachers entering the pipeline, and retaining them in the schools where they are needed most:
- Early career exposure. This would include education-focused high school courses that could allow for dual enrollment so students can earn college credits towards an education degree while in high school.
- Establish Grow our Own (GYO) teacher programs, where members of the communities which schools are situated in are recruited into the pipeline. Because GYO teachers are from the same communities as their students, they tend to reflect similar demographics and improve diversity.
- Facilitate partnerships between education agencies and higher education institutions, especially those that serve minority populations, to better prepare teacher candidates in areas like the taking of teaching licensure exams.
- Create new pathways into teaching through means such as the creation of tutoring corps to help address students’ Covid-19 learning losses.
- Provide clear information on student debt and debt supports for prospective teacher candidates.
For retaining Black and Hispanic teachers, Bellwether suggests using ARP funds for professional development, the building of networks and communities of practice, and leadership training for principals. The first two of these initiatives aim to establish networks of Black and Hispanic teachers and mentorship programs that serve them, which could reduce the isolation they often feel in schools where teacher diversity is low. The leadership training initiative aims to improve principals’ ability to create inclusive workplace cultures within their schools.
Though all of these initiatives may help diversify the teacher workforce, it’s important to remember that these ARP dollars are one-time sources of funding. Investing ARP dollars in initiatives like establishing communities of practice or voluntary mentorship programs are excellent because they have low-maintenance cost once established. But one of the biggest challenges for initiatives like GYO programs is securing long-term funding. The strategies suggested by Bellwether are excellent solutions to the teacher-student race gap, but policymakers must also ensure that future financial supports are in place once the ARP funds run dry.
SOURCE: Andrew J. Rotherham and Thomas Gold “Window of Opportunity: How States and Localities Can Use Federal Rescue Plan Dollars to Diversify Their Teacher Workforce,” Bellwether Education Partners (2021).