July 12, 2021
For decades, practitioners have acknowledged the lack of educator diversity in this nation; but in 2021, state policymakers are giving more attention to the issue as well. With a diversifying U.S. student population (Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, and biracial or multiracial student enrollment all increased in 2018)—but a public teacher workforce that remains mostly white—this issue has gained more urgency given research demonstrating the myriad positive impacts of same-race teachers particularly for Black students. These research findings, coupled with a pandemic that contributed to teacher shortages in 43 states, and sharp declines in teacher preparation program enrollment nationwide, are motivating policymakers and advocates to push through legislation to help address this representation gap and shore up the teacher workforce.
Consider: in the 2021 state legislative sessions, Grow Your Own (GYO) or educator diversity legislation was passed in nine different states—Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah. Of all 15 pieces of legislation passed across these states, only one GYO bill, in Utah, was passed without complementary bills related to educator diversity.
In the remaining eight states, educator diversity was a central focus. Oregon’s HB2001 centers diverse teacher retention, while Arkansas’s Act 646, Kentucky’s SB270, Minnesota’s SF23, and Montana’s HB403 address both GYO and educator diversity simultaneously. And in states like New Mexico, Colorado, and New Jersey, multiple pieces of legislation were passed in both areas of GYO and educator diversity. Taken together, these bills help provide lessons on how policymakers and practitioners are striving to diversify the educator workforce.
1. Create the Conditions for Effectively Growing and Diversifying the Educator Workforce
The foundation of any effort to recruit and retain diverse educators, including through GYO programs, starts with collaboration. Almost every successfully passed bill this session stresses the importance of partnerships between state departments of education, state boards of education, LEAs, school districts, community organizations, colleges, and universities.
Furthermore, while growing and diversifying the educator pipeline depends on effective recruitment, preparation and retention strategies, the efficacy and longevity of any GYO or educator diversity strategy require a strong infrastructure. New Mexico’s HM18 establishes a teacher diversity research task force and outlines a set of conditions necessary for an effective course of action. These conditions include having a system of traditional and alternative educator credentialing and licensing options allowing candidates to gain specialized knowledge meeting specific student needs and a system of ongoing data collection, evaluation, and analysis to support the continuous improvement of programs.
Planning with these conditions in mind—and with anticipation of potential hurdles—may allow programs and policies to address multiple aspects of the diverse teacher pipeline at once.
2. Take Localized Approaches that Target Specific Populations
One size does not fit all, and states are supporting localized approaches to diversifying and growing the educator workforce. For instance, Utah’s HB0381 establishes a grant program for LEAs to provide scholarships for school employees in alternative teacher and school counselor preparation pathways. Similarly, Arkansas’s Act 646 allows each school district and public open-enrollment charter school in the state to construct its own teacher and administrator recruitment and retention plan according to its staff diversification needs.
In addition, legislation is targeting the recruitment and preparation of specific populations of potential teachers. Montana’s HB403, for instance, creates a GYO pathway for high schoolers, while New Jersey’s S2833 establishes a Teacher Apprenticeship Program for both high schoolers and paraprofessionals. New Mexico’s HB22 offers professional leave to school employees pursuing teacher preparation, and Montana’s HB403 offers grants for rural and reservation districts to create their own high school GYO programs that serve Indigenous populations in their areas.
Kentucky’s SB270 champions partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in order to provide wraparound services for Black communities surrounding those schools. The bill establishes the West Louisville Historically Black Colleges and Universities Pilot Project, to build partnerships between Kentucky State University and surrounding HBCUs that provide dual enrollment, undergraduate, graduate, and courses for credit toward certificates. As an added resource, the West Louisville Health and Wellness Pilot Project will build on these partnerships to address issues in health education, food insecurity, the delivery of public assistance, and other support services among these communities.
While all of these policies differ in terms of approach and target population, they still share the goal of strengthening and diversifying the educator workforce.
3. Increase Access to Education Preparation through Effective Marketing
While marketing resources may normally be relegated to a later phase of implementing legislation, some bills from this session directly address the importance of adequately sharing information about teacher pathways with prospective candidates.
Colorado’s SB185 requires using both websites and social media to market the resources available to people wanting to become teachers. In similar fashion, Arkansas’s Act 646 stresses that its three-year minority educator recruitment and retention plan must be posted on the school districts’ or open-enrollment public charter schools’ websites, and asks districts to name ways they will market careers in education to diverse students.
New Jersey’s S2830 focuses strictly on the dissemination of standardized test information in order to more equitably serve diverse students, requiring educator preparation programs to publish candidates’ first-time and overall test pass rates on their websites, along with information on test fee waivers for low-income students.
Minnesota’s SF23 allocates funds for its Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board to award grants to organizations—preferably run by people of color—that can develop and implement effective marketing campaigns. This includes using Teacher of the Year finalists to recruit teachers of color and indigenous teachers to Minnesota Public Schools.
New America’s research on the barriers that multilingual paraprofessionals face in becoming licensed educators cites unreliable information on available teaching pathways in their states as a particular challenge. By mandating that information about becoming a teacher be more publicly accessible, states are helping set the stage for previously deterred candidates to self recruit into the profession.
Other State Initiatives to Watch
The legislation so far passed this year does not constitute the only efforts states are making to grow and diversify their educators. In addition to its other legislation, Minnesota—pushed by the Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers —has also approved a funding increase of over $15 million dollars for initiatives supporting diverse teachers, with Grow Your Own, Black Men Teach, and Aspiring Educators of Color Scholarships seeing some of the highest increases.
There are also several more states who have introduced promising legislation, including North Carolina, whose H968 seeks to implement teacher diversity strategies recommended by the state’s DRIVE Task Force (Developing a Representative and Inclusive Vision for Education).
Although these bills’ ability to pass does not automatically mean they will achieve their intended outcomes, the similarities between them are still notable, and do serve as an indication of what states are beginning to prioritize in the continued struggle to diversify the U.S. educator workforce.
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