Condition Setting to Catalyzing Action: The State’s Role in Accelerating Teacher Diversity

When I was growing up in a small town in New Jersey, I didn’t have a single teacher of color. As a white student, I missed out on seeing the world from more diverse perspectives, which would have enriched my education and understanding of different cultural realities. Furthermore, seeing people of color as teachers and role models in my school community would have helped counter the racial biases I was unconsciously absorbing from the mostly white culture around me. The research is clear that having teachers of color will benefit all children and it’s time that we who work in and with state education agencies, school districts and institutions of higher education (IHEs) make accelerating teacher diversity a top priority. 

My colleagues recently made a compelling, research-based case for prioritizing increasing educator diversity and highlighted 8 strategies that districts can pursue to hire and retain more teachers of color. However, districts alone can’t move the needle. States are a critical player in realizing the vision for a more diverse, effective educator workforce. 

In our conversations with 11 state education leaders and their advocacy partners, we identified eight state-level strategies that advance teacher diversity. Today, we want to highlight four strategies that are particularly critical right now with student learning at greater risk because of the pandemic and districts planning to lay off a disproportionate number of teachers of color due to budget shortfalls. 

States play a critical role in creating the conditions needed for educator diversity and effectiveness to flourish.

  • Collecting, sharing and using data to increase transparency and hold IHEs, districts and the state accountable for increasing their diversity is a foundational condition. For example, Louisiana reviews teacher preparation programs annually and publishes annual profiles of each program, with consequences for unsatisfactory performance going into effect in 2023. As part of each teacher preparation program’s on-site review, programs are evaluated on the extent to which they are recruiting a workforce that is representative of their communities. States can also provide districts with data to help them understand their hiring needs and diversity gaps. According to TNTP, Georgia’s Teacher and Leader Workforce Report is an exemplar for other states. The report analyzes workforce, production, retention, and retirement patterns for K12 teachers and contains data on educator demographics to highlight supply and demand misalignment and diversity gaps. Shining a spotlight on IHE and districts’ diversity gaps is a powerful motivator for leaders to stay focused and act on this critical issue during such a challenging time. 
  • States can reform licensing regulations to reduce financial and testing bias barriers to ensure access for qualified and diverse candidates seeking to enter the profession. Many states are struggling to address the alarmingly low pass rates on licensure tests for many teacher candidates and particularly for teachers of color. Among Black candidates in elementary education, 62 percent on average do not qualify for a standard license because they do not pass a widely used content test. In addition, the cost to become a teacher can easily amount to $20,000 or more, which is out of reach for many candidates. Some states are exploring different assessment approaches to address the bias in commonly used standardized licensure tests that have little connection to the effectiveness of classroom teachers. In Minnesota, the state and Lakes County Service Cooperative are using micro-credentials for alternative teacher licensure by developing a competency-based licensure program designed for several Career and Technical Education (CTE) licensure areas. New York is addressing the financial hurdle for many teacher candidates by providing financial support and mentorship to teacher candidates of color through the Teacher Opportunity Corps (TOC) II grant to 16 IHEs, which is part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative modeled after the Obama administration’s effort to close opportunity gaps faced by young men of color.  

States can go further than creating the conditions for teacher diversity and actively catalyze district and IHE efforts to recruit and retain diverse teachers by pursuing the next two strategies 

  • Invest in recruitment strategies and alternative pathways that broaden teacher pipelines and increase the diversity of teachers. For example, California invested $45 million in its “Grow Your Own” program, California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program, which aims to build the bench of diverse teacher candidates. This program trained 2,250 classified staff members, typically paraprofessionals, to become teachers. More than half of new program participants were Latinx or Black. The program awards up to 1,000 grants of $4,000 per participant per year through the 2021–22 school year. Tennessee is piloting innovative grant strategies to help LEAs diversify their teacher pipelines. Efforts such as the 2017 Diversity Innovation Grant Program awarded three districts one-year awards totaling $100,000 to implement comprehensive strategies with the primary goal of increasing the representation of teachers of color in their local schools.
  • Finally, states can increase expectations and support for principals to be stronger cultural leaders and supporters of teachers, particularly teachers of color. Black teachers tend to leave the field at higher rates than their White colleagues. According to research by Ed Trust – NY, they leave because their working conditions are not supportive or inclusive. Principals are key to establishing positive working conditions. Some districts are proactive about supporting principals to address diversity, equity and inclusion, but many districts need more incentives and support from the state. Arkansas created the Leadership Quest, a principal professional development program funded by a grant from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and run by the regional education support offices to provide ongoing training, coaching and a learning network on topics related to developing, mentoring and evaluating teachers. Massachusetts works closely with school districts and associations that partner with districts to help the state implement training for schools and districts about culturally responsive leadership and pedagogy. 

If states pursue these strategies and the others we have highlighted, the vision that I and so many others share for a more diverse—and therefore more effective—teacher workforce will finally come true. Our students need this vision to be realized now more than ever. We encourage state education leaders to reflect on this brief self-assessment tool with their colleagues and identify and take action in their state. 

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