Few areas of teacher policy have received as much overdue attention over the past few years as teacher diversity. A growing body of evidence continues to demonstrate that teachers of color have a powerful impact. The outcomes are striking: having even two Black teachers by the third grade increases Black students' likelihood of attending college by over 30 percent. Teachers of color have a similarly positive impact on academic achievement, attendance, enrollment in advanced coursework, and high school graduation rates for students of the same race/ethnicity.
Looking back on 2021, what legislative actions did states take to close the teacher diversity gap? We report here on select trends from four states that span the teacher pipeline, as early as middle school through to the classroom.
Ambitious funding in Minnesota
In the 11th hour of their legislative session, Minnesota passed an education omnibus bill that included millions for teacher diversity initiatives explicitly aimed at recruiting people of color and Native American/American Indian teachers.331 Funds from Minnesota's legislation include roughly $17.5 million for a range of teacher diversity strategies, including a concurrent enrollment program for high school students looking to start their educator prep coursework early; additional financial aid for American Indian students in Minnesota teacher preparation programs; $10 million for Grow Your Own programs; $750,000 for the non-profit teacher recruitment and support program Black Men Teach; and a targeted statewide campaign aimed at recruiting new teachers of color.
To ensure that teachers of color are working with the students who need them most, the bill also provides funding for recruitment bonuses (between $2,500 and $8,000) for teachers of color and Native American/American Indian teachers from out of state to relocate to both teach and live in designated economic development regions of Minnesota, while filling staffing shortage needs. Lawmakers also funded a grant program for early career support programs, which requires districts to demonstrate intentional support for Native American/American Indian teachers and teachers of color.
New pathways in Colorado and Montana
In Colorado, legislators directed the state to design and launch a career pathway for prospective educators, with the explicit intent to increase teacher diversity and reach student populations who face systemic barriers to entering the profession. The $12 million dollar program creates a pathway for students to begin preparing to become an educator as early as middle school. Students will receive personalized career coaching and can begin earning postsecondary credit in high school.
In an effort to attract Native American/American Indian educators to teach in Indian Country, Montana has established a similar career pathway program. The state will fund a dual enrollment pathway for high school students with grants to pay for postsecondary teacher preparation coursework for students who work towards becoming licensed or endorsed in an educator shortage area, or teach for three or more years in a school facing a serious educator shortage.
Rethinking seniority-based layoffs in Oregon
Oregon delivered a blow to seniority-based layoffs, which (among other negative consequences) often lead to disproportionate layoffs of teachers of color, who are more likely to be newer to their roles and work in schools more likely to experience the worst impacts of layoffs. Oregon's new law stipulates that a teacher's cultural and linguistic diversity must be ranked above seniority in layoff decisions, and that districts must make every reasonable effort to ensure that layoffs do not negatively impact the cultural and linguistic diversity of a school's teaching staff. Districts hoping to explicitly factor race/ethnicity into new layoff criteria have run into legal challenges in the past, so it remains to be seen whether or not criteria based on proxy factors like culture and linguistic diversity will be successfully implemented and sustained.
Using new strategies is necessary and important in the face of an urgent and historically-ignored issue like teacher diversity. At the same time, states should focus on validating these new approaches, shedding light on which programs impact entry, professional success, and retention for teachers of color by including both detailed data reporting requirements and funding for robust evaluations of the programs.
States should also consider how comprehensive their approach to this problem is. A recent data visualization by CALDER modeled the different points where prospective teachers of color tend to drop from the pipeline, with a number of simulations showing how much the diversity of the teacher workforce should shift based on interventions at any one point where many people of color exit. They found that shoring up cracks at any single point in the leaky teacher pipeline did not come close to bridging the national gap between teachers of color and students of color, echoing earlier work by researchers from the Brookings Institution and NCTQ. The findings reinforce that systems must improve how well they attract and serve prospective teachers of color at every point in the pipeline—from a prospective candidate's high school experience through their return to the classroom as a teacher—if we have a hope of meeting ambitious and important goals for workforce diversity.