Building a Diverse Teacher Workforce

Improving diversity among educators is one way to alleviate some of the persistent and systemic racial disparities in academic achievement and student discipline. But about 80% of the educator workforce is white, while more than half of the nation’s K-12 population is racially and ethnically diverse. A new Education Commision of the States report shows that states are taking myriad approaches in policy to improve diversity.

Some common state policy approaches to improve teacher workforce diversity include: 

• Understanding and examining state context. 

• Providing financial incentives and supports. 

• Implementing grow-your-own programs. 

• Expanding preparation and licensure pathways.

Gaining a thorough understanding of the current student and teacher demographic landscape within a state, as well as the diversity of candidates entering and completing teacher preparation programs, can position states to address context-specific issues around teacher diversity. Most states collect and report data on the race and ethnicity of educators to some degree. However, according to a recent survey of state education agencies, only 17 states collect and post teacher diversity data on their public facing websites, while several other states make those data reasonably available to the public upon request. 

One of the most common approaches to addressing teacher shortages of all kinds is to provide financial incentives and supports. An Education Commission of the States 50-State Comparison conducted in 2019 showed that 11 states have at least one financial incentive program specific to recruiting teachers of color; seven states prioritize teachers of color for already established scholarship or loan-forgiveness programs; and five states provide incentives for educator preparation programs to recruit and enroll students of color. 

Efforts to recruit teachers from local communities — efforts known as grow-your-own programs — come in a variety of forms and can be geared toward recruiting both high school and college students, as well as expanding opportunities for paraprofessionals and other school staff who have non-teaching degrees. According to a recent scan of state statute and regulation, at least five states (Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota) explicitly allow or create these programs in law, and one recent report on state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act indicates that some states are using Title II, Part A funds to create or bolster existing programs. Colorado and Minnesota recently enacted legislation aimed at creating and funding grow-your-own programs, and Washington and Illinois each have long standing programs they continue to modify to encourage teacher workforce diversity.

Teacher candidates of color often face disproportionate barriers to entering the teaching profession.  Several states have enacted legislation related to alternative certification, and recently, both New Jersey and Connecticut enacted alternative certification legislation specifically related to recruiting and retaining teachers of color. 

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