Nov. 16, 2022
The teacher shortage crisis is a hot topic in the current news cycle, with the federal, state, and local governments implementing strategies to attract and retain more people in the profession. Unpacking the reasons behind the teacher shortage requires an acknowledgment that teachers’ career decisions are influenced by the extent to which they have the resources, preparation, and support needed to enter the field, do their jobs well, work with colleagues of all backgrounds, and maintain a high quality of life.
These issues are particularly salient for educators of color, as evidenced by RAND’s recent report “Prioritizing Strategies to Racially Diversify the K-12 Teacher Workforce: Findings from the State of the American Teacher and State of the American Principal Surveys.” The report, the third in a series, relies on nationally representative survey data collected from 2,360 teachers, 1,540 principals, interviews with 60 teachers, and a panel of 14 policymakers, researchers, union representatives, and practitioners. The researchers deliberately oversampled to ensure that their results included the perspectives of teachers and principals who identify as people of color. Additionally, they disaggregated some of their findings to examine whether responses varied based on demographic characteristics, school context and locale, and student characteristics. This analytic approach helped the researchers discover that teachers of color face systemic barriers to entering and staying in the profession throughout their careers.
Moreover, rather than simply presenting teacher recruitment, hiring, and retention as three separate stages, the researchers acknowledged how they overlap over time (see Figure 1 below). This framework further highlights the necessity of addressing barriers at all stages of the teacher career pipeline when looking to recruit and retain teachers of color, and this blog post outlines some of the report’s recommended strategies for doing so.
Make entering the teaching profession more affordable for teachers of color.
The report emphasizes the need for states and teacher preparation programs to make teaching more affordable for candidates. In addition to higher pay, 58 percent of teachers of color surveyed identified loan forgiveness as a way to promote recruitment and retention, a solution that is partially underway with the Biden administration’s new student debt relief plan and Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program waiver that temporarily expands borrowers’ chance at financial relief. Efforts like these are useful for confronting racial disparities in student loan debt, especially between Black and white educators, that affect their professional futures.
Many educators also recommended subsidizing teaching licensing fees, providing service scholarships, or otherwise paying for candidates’ student teaching. Panelists highlighted options like Grow Your Own programs, which provide low-to-no cost pathways for teacher candidates of color to earn degrees and enter the field. And since financial challenges stemming from student loan debt—like an inability to save money or afford to buy a home —also impact educators’ futures. It will be nearly impossible to strengthen and diversify the teacher workforce without comprehensively addressing the affordability of earning a degree in education.
Prepare school leaders to recruit, hire, and retain teachers of color.
The report also posits that anti-racist approaches can help leaders diversify the workforce. However, principals reported a lack of preparation in recruiting, hiring, and retaining teachers of color, with 38 percent noting that the issue of retention in particular received no emphasis in their ongoing professional learning. This lack of training is devastating, since other research has also found that teachers of color are more likely to stay in schools with colleagues who share their race or ethnicity. Therefore, district leaders could focus on training district and school staff to use hiring practices that mitigate racial bias and thoughtfully include staff of color in the hiring process. Anti-racist workforce development strategies may include evaluating a potential hire’s holistic approach to education, such as their views on students’ potential, empathy for kids, and passion for social justice. They may also include assessing candidates’ potential biases and experience teaching students from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. And since the report found that principals of color often recruit teachers of color from their own social networks, this training could help them better leverage their networks to bring diverse teachers into equitable work environments.
To sustain racially and linguistically diverse environments, both white and BIPOC teachers must be trained to protect, affirm, and support their colleagues’ racial, ethnic, and linguistic identities. District and school leaders could implement ongoing professional development for all teachers to further address the impacts of systemic racism and incorporate culturally relevant and sustaining teaching practices, so they may continuously work positively with each other.
Overall, RAND’s report should motivate states, educator preparation programs, districts, and schools to actively reckon with the systemic inequities that burden current and future teachers of color. From now on, as we work to build a teacher workforce that meets the needs of our growing diverse student population, we must look to strategies that target barriers at multiple stages of the teacher career pipeline, from entry to tenure and beyond.
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