District Trendline

Increasing teacher diversity: Four ways districts can take action

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Building a more diverse teacher workforce is a top priority for state and district leaders and advocates across the country—and school districts are well poised to be the difference-makers that bring about these changes.

A more racially diverse teacher workforce benefits all students, and especially students of color. Teachers of color tend to hold higher expectations for students of color, and the data shows higher attendance rates, greater academic achievement, and higher rates of high school graduation and college matriculation for students of color when taught by teachers of color.886 New research even finds that teachers of color have a measurable positive impact on the performance of their white colleagues.887 

Yet too few students across the country have access to teachers who share their race and ethnicity. Students of color make up over 50% of the student population, while the teaching workforce is still 80% white.888 The pathway to build a more representative workforce requires attention to the current system, as potential teachers of color leave the pipeline at every point from high school through teacher preparation.889 A recent NCTQ State of the States report explored how many states have already taken steps to build a more diverse teacher workforce. But building a diverse workforce is not just up to the states; district leaders can and do lead the way.

This District Trendline will examine four opportunities for districts to increase the diversity of their teacher workforce, with examples from states and districts across the country.

1. Build the pipeline of teachers of color
Building a more diverse teacher workforce starts at the earliest stages of the teacher pipeline: encouraging people to consider a career in teaching. Districts can begin cultivating a homegrown cohort of teachers by establishing high school pipeline programs or partnering with local preparation programs to offer Grow Your Own programs (which often recruit local community members to prepare for teaching), teacher apprenticeships, and residencies. These programs tend to include a higher number of candidates of color than more traditional routes to the classroom. One caution, though, is that teachers of color believe that other pathways and policies (e.g., student loan forgiveness, scholarships, and expanding teacher prep programs at Minority Serving Institutions) are more likely to attract teachers of color than Grow Your Own programs would.890 

One example of a program that seeks to build interest in teaching among high school students is the high school pipeline program Educators Rising. This program now has a presence in 39 states and regions, and offers a curriculum and other resources to help schools and districts get started.891

Apprenticeships are also gaining ground. Either the United States Department of Labor (USDOL), or a USDOL-recognized state apprenticeship agency recognizes and vets Registered Apprenticeships. A Registered Apprenticeship confers a nationally recognized credential for apprentices, along with worker protections like minimum pay rules. Approved apprenticeship programs unlock state and federal workforce dollars to help fund the program, among other benefits. Teacher apprentices learn the skills for a job through a combination of coursework and time spent on the job under the supervision of a mentor teacher, all while earning an hourly wage that increases as apprentices gain skills. The first federally approved Registered Apprenticeship for teachers, in Tennessee, was born out of the state's existing Grow Your Own program network statewide, which has since been converted to a Registered Apprenticeship model across the state's 73 participating districts.

Considerations for building the pipeline of teachers of color:

  1. Keep teacher quality and student learning front and center. Ensure that apprentices are not serving as teachers of record before they have completed their preparation. Verify that preparation programs' instruction is aligned to your state's standards for teaching and your district's expectations for what new teachers should know.
  2. If your district does not have one, consider creating a high school career pathway program to start developing aspiring educators early. Identify a potential partner that could help students earn college credit while still in high school, for little to no cost.
  3. Determine what stipulations should be attached to any pipeline programs. For example, some Grow Your Own programs offer tuition or loan forgiveness, and districts may require that teachers repay this support if they leave the district before teaching for a specified number of years.
  4. Track data on teachers your district hires from different pathways and programs to determine whether (or not) the programs are a good investment, to provide feedback to those programs about how to strengthen preparation, and to inform future recruiting decisions. Ideally, your data system should be able to follow people from high school into teacher preparation, and then into the teacher workforce. Use the data to evaluate: What are the demographics of teachers who complete these programs? How many get hired? How effective are they? Do they stay?
2. Offer financial incentives to attract and hire teachers of color

For people of color considering a career in teaching, the cost of preparation compared to the relatively lower wages of teachers (in contrast to some other professions) may make teaching less attractive. This calculation is especially relevant because college graduates of color who trained as teachers are also more likely to take on student loan debt than their white counterparts,892 and people of color in general have higher levels of student loan debt compared with white college attendees.893

To offset these costs, scholarships and loan forgiveness programs can act as effective incentives to draw people into teaching, and especially into working in underserved areas and harder-to-staff roles.

Some districts have already begun to offer these programs, often for teachers who are recruited through local Grow Your Own programs. For example, Chicago Public Schools (IL) offers tuition assistance to the district's high school students who enter the district's five-year pipeline program, Teach Chicago. Montgomery County Public Schools (MD) is launching a pipeline program with Bowie State University, a historically Black university, to provide $5,000 scholarships to students who pursue a secondary education certificate and commit to return to the district.

Many states, too, offer other programs that districts can capitalize upon; for example, Connecticut offers a housing down payment assistance program for anyone who graduated from a historically Black college or university or a Hispanic-serving institution.

Considerations for offering financial incentives to attract and hire teachers of color:
  1. Consider whether scholarships may be more effective than loan forgiveness. At least one study has found that service scholarships (funds provided to cut tuition costs) may have a greater influence on college students' future job choices than the prospect of loan forgiveness.894
  2. Identify the hurdles that teachers may face in coming to your district, and focus on those. For example, if the local cost of living is high, consider programs to help teachers buy homes. Washington, DC offers several such programs to teachers in District of Columbia Public Schools and the district's charter schools. While this is not their core function, housing is such a great need that other districts are building affordable housing specifically for teachers.
  3. Consider staffing needs when designing incentives. For example, if your district's needs are greater at the secondary level than the elementary level, focus scholarships or incentives for teachers who can teach at that level.
3. Retain the teachers of color who enter the workforce

Encouraging teachers of color to stay in the classroom is critical to increasing teacher diversity. As teachers stay in the classroom longer, they become more effective and extend their impact to more students.

To support teachers of color, districts should think about retention as a long-term priority.  One study found that attrition for Black teachers was highest in their fourth year in the classroom, when many schools are no longer focusing on teacher retention supports.895 Retaining teachers requires not only mentoring and affinity groups (something for which states commonly direct retention dollars896), but also a focus on school climate and school leadership. In fact, that same study on Black teacher attrition (linked above in this paragraph) found that support from the school administration is central in Black teachers' intention to stay in the classroom.897

Pennsylvania, for instance, partnered with local practitioners and advocates to disseminate a toolkit, written by the Center for Black Educator Development, to help principals develop their skills in retaining educators of color.898

Tulsa Public Schools (OK) has established a "Justice, Inclusion & Belonging Team," which is tasked with "identifying and implementing culture and climate practices that will foster an environment of strong adult wellness, relational trust, and collective efficacy in preparation for engaging in school-wide equity work." Staff who are part of this team are paid an additional stipend.899

Further, districts need to update policies to make sure they do not undo the district's recent efforts. One potentially regressive policy is "last-in, first-out," or "LIFO" layoff policies. As of NCTQ's last analysis of large school districts' layoff policies, nearly a third (31%) still use seniority as the preponderant or sole criterion for layoff decisions.

Several studies have found that more novice teachers are more likely to be teachers of color, which means that LIFO policies will disproportionately remove teachers of color from the workforce. Districts can address this issue in several ways: First, they can adjust layoff criteria so that other considerations, such as teachers' effectiveness or evaluation ratings, play a greater role. Second, they can enshrine protections from layoffs for some groups of teachers. Minneapolis Public Schools (MN) took this approach, exempting from layoffs teachers who work in certain schools or programs (including teachers in Racially Isolated Schools; teachers in Native and Heritage language literacy programs; graduates from Grow Your Own programs in the district; teachers who are members of populations underrepresented among licensed teachers in the district; and teachers who are alumni from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and/or Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities programs).

Considerations for retaining the teachers of color who enter the workforce:
  1. Solutions are most effective when targeted to the needs of your district. Build a robust understanding of the current experiences of teachers of color and the reasons that teachers of color are exiting by using climate and exit surveys and tracking retention data.
  2. The best time to revise layoff policies is before they're needed. Review data on teacher demographics by years of experience, and consider whether current layoff policies will negate recent progress in building a more diverse workforce.
  3. Any policies that consider teachers' race may raise concerns of legal backlash. While any policy should be analyzed in light of its specific details and the state context, it may be helpful to know that a lawsuit against Minneapolis Public Schools' layoff policy was dismissed (although it could be refiled by someone who has been laid off under this policy).
4. Track progress to identify needs and successes
Every additional teacher of color can open up opportunities for their students, but changing the composition of the workforce more broadly is a numbers game—to succeed, districts need to track the data.

Building out a comprehensive, cohesive data system is best done with the support of your state, but states vary widely in their data infrastructure. States such as Connecticut and Washington have successfully built data systems that can work across districts, tracking eventual teachers from their K-12 experience into the classroom as a teacher. In the absence of state support, there's still quite a lot that individual districts can do, starting with setting goals to increase teacher diversity, and tracking progress toward those goals.

Districts should aim to track:
  • Demographic data of the current teacher workforce: This data, broken out by the characteristics that the district prioritizes (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, linguistic), offers an all-important starting point from which to build.
  • Demographic data of current teachers by preparation route: This data helps inform future recruitment priorities so that the district can focus on partnering more with routes that prepare more teachers of color.
  • Demographic data of current teachers by certification area and grade span: This data illustrates whether teachers of color are distributed across the district's workforce or concentrated in certain subjects or grades.
  • Teacher advancement data, such as participation in teacher leadership roles or pathways: Leadership opportunities can be both a means of retaining teachers of color and a pipeline toward building more diverse school leaders; tracking this data offers insight into whether teachers of color are equally represented among these opportunities.
  • Where possible, teacher hiring pool data: This information can inform whether your recruitment strategies are effective in encouraging teachers of color to apply to your district, and can help identify whether there may be hurdles in the hiring process that are keeping applicants of color from reaching the classroom.
  • Teacher effectiveness data: Track teacher effectiveness data at the school level by race/ethnicity to help identify high-performing teachers and to identify teachers who may need additional support.
  • Teacher retention data: This data, especially when collected at the individual school level, can identify successes and challenges in supporting teachers of color to stay in the classroom. Schools that have lower retention rates may need some additional guidance, while schools with higher retention rates may be able to share promising practices.
Considerations for tracking progress to identify needs and successes:
  1. Sometimes it's best to start small. While working with your state education agency to develop a statewide system that cuts across all districts would be ideal, not all states are ready to take this on. Starting with data collection in your district is far better than not collecting data at all.
  2. But, there's also power in numbers: Consider collaborating with nearby districts to share data, or even to share approaches to collecting and housing data. From there, collaborate with local prep programs to pull in their data (and share data back with them).
  3. Identify your top priorities and start there. While all the data identified above is more powerful when you can put together all of the pieces, there may be a few questions that are most pressing in your district (e.g., Why are teachers of color leaving? Which schools are most effective in hiring teachers of color?), so identify those questions and build data structures that can help answer them.
As past research has confirmed, building a teacher workforce will require intentional, multifaceted efforts. Districts that make this a priority should consider all points of teachers' career pathways—from building interest in teaching, to providing paths toward licensure, to hiring teachers of color into the district, to creating a work environment in which teachers of color want to remain.

Want to read more about building a diverse teacher workforce? Check out these additional resources:
Seven strategies school districts are using to increase teacher diversity- District Trendline synthesizing strategies used by districts across the country
From the source: What strategies do teachers of color believe will be most successful in recruiting and retaining teachers of color?- Summary of recent RAND survey data