WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Center for American Progress panel discussion on Wednesday sought to elevate the discussion on the merits of making America’s teaching force more diverse, but it sometimes got snagged by questions about the need to make the case for diversity itself.
“If we are embracing diversity in all aspects, then we need to stop wondering why we need to have diverse teachers,” said Rachelle Rogers-Ard, program manager at Teach Tomorrow Oakland, an alternative teacher certification program, in response to an audience member who asked her and the other panelists to elaborate on the “why” behind the argument for greater teacher diversity.
“That should no longer be a part of the conversation,” Rogers-Ard said during the discussion, held at the Washington-based Center for American Progress and titled “Diverse Schools Need Diverse Teachers: Strategies to Increase Diversity in the Teacher Workforce.”
“We’re embracing diversity because this nation has children who are diverse, and we need to have people who are diverse in all aspects of all professions,” Rogers-Ard said.
Still, the reality is that Rogers-Ard finds herself having to defend diversity when she speaks of the alternative teacher certification program she runs in California. Even at Wednesday’s discussion, one of the most oft-repeated claims made to bolster the case for diversity was that students of color often “do better” on various academic outcomes when taught by students of color—almost as if the absence of better results would undermine the case for diversity.
When a reporter asked Rogers-Ard why so often words such as “qualified,” “talented” and “effective” precede the word “minority” in discussions about minority teacher recruitment, Rogers-Ard said it’s because of a largely unspoken reality about how minority teachers are perceived by hiring managers as less able than their White counterparts.
“I have never been able to talk about recruiting diverse teachers without having to also justify the notion that the diverse teacher will be as effective, and then the ellipsis after that is ‘… as a White teacher,’” Rogers-Ard said in an interview with Diverse that followed the panel discussion.
Wednesday’s discussion provided a platform for the release of two Center for American progress publications on the topic of teacher diversity. They are “Increasing Teacher Diversity: Strategies to Improve the Teacher Workforce” and “Teacher Diversity Matters: A State-by-State Analysis of Teachers of Color.”
The reports indicate that, while students of color make up more than 40 percent of the public school population, teachers of color are only 17 percent of the teaching force. The reports also note that, over the next decade or so, the nation’s public school student body will “have no one clear racial or ethnic majority.”
The report on strategies to increase diversity includes case studies for five programs—including Rogers-Ard’s program in Oakland—that have demonstrated “varied levels of success” in their efforts to recruit more diverse teachers. The others are: Teach for America, The New Teacher Project-Fellowship Programs, the Urban Teacher Enhancement Program (UTEP), and the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Scholarship Program.
The other publication includes a “State teacher diversity index” that lists the percentage point difference between the percentage of non-White teachers and non-White students.
Among the states with the biggest gaps were California and several other states in America’s southwest, such as Texas, Arizona and Nevada, which had point differences of 32 percent or higher. The states with the lowest and single-digit percentage gaps tended not to have many minority students, including Vermont, Maine, West Virginia and New Hampshire.
The vast majority of states had percentage gaps in the 20- to 30-percent range.
Beyond sheer numbers of minority teachers, or lack thereof, were issues of satisfaction among minority teachers with salary and management.
For instance, according to the state-by-state analysis, only 70 percent of African-American teachers were satisfied with the way their school was run, which is 8 percent less than White teachers, the report found.
Only 37 percent of African-American teachers and 46 percent of Hispanic teachers were satisfied with their pay, compared to 53 percent of White teachers.
“Part of the issue here is teachers of color are more likely to teach in high poverty schools, which get less than their fair share of dollars,” said Ulrich Boser, author of the state-by-state analysis report and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
He said the findings in his report show that one way to increase minority teacher numbers is to expand high-quality recruitment programs, including alternative teacher certification programs, such as those featured in the companion publication on strategies to increase diversity.
Boser said improving diversity will hinge on addressing issues of satisfaction among minority teachers with their salary and management.
“It’s going to take hard work, smart policy and, above all, the political will to address this issue,” Boser said.
Other panelists included Crystal McQueen, partner with The New Teacher Project, and Saba Bireda, deputy director of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council.
Although Bireda cited research that showed students of color “do better” on various academic outcomes when taught by teachers of color, she said there is a need for more data on the effectiveness of alternative teacher certification programs.
“We found that some programs were prioritizing to help candidates finish, and that began to overshadow whether they were effective in the classroom,” Bireda said, adding: “Many programs have yet to track the success of their teachers after they graduate from the program.”
McQueen said that, when The New Teacher Project gets more data on outcomes among students taught by its program graduates, there will be a need to examine the sources from which the most effective teachers were recruited—or which characteristics they have in common—so those things can be considered more strongly in the recruitment of future teachers.