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Study: Debt Load Disparities Hamper K-12 Teacher Diversity

Bayliss FiddimanBayliss Fiddiman

A new Center for American Progress report finds that the disproportionate student loan debt burden carried by educators of color further exacerbates efforts to recruit a diverse teacher workforce.

The report, titled, “Student Debt: An Overlooked Barrier to Increasing Teacher Diversity,” follows recent studies showing that schools struggle to recruit a diverse teacher workforce and that teachers of color, especially Black teachers, leave the profession at higher rates than their White peers.

The CAP report relies on data from National Center for Education Statistics Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study for its analysis. The report finds that 91 percent of Black students and 82 percent of Latinx students who trained to become teachers, borrowed federal student loans, compared to 76 percent of White students. Additionally, among individuals who have taught, 88 percent of Black students and 76 percent of Latinx students took out federal student loans to pay for college, compared with 73 percent of White students.

The report also finds that Black students who trained to become teachers had higher median federal student loan debt in 2012 ($26,405) than they had in 2008 ($22,699) — the only group to realize this trend. In addition, the report finds that in 2015-2016, Black teachers earned less on average compared with their White counterparts — $52,420 and 55,120, respectively.

“Even though the majority of students in America’s public schools are nonwhite and studies have shown that these students’ perform better in classrooms with teachers of the same race, still just 1 in 5 teachers in America identify as people of color,” said Bayliss Fiddiman, senior policy analyst for K-12 Education at CAP. “This report shows that not only are teachers entering a field that pays them less than similarly educated professionals, but the cost of entrance is a greater burden for teachers of color.”

The report notes, “Persistently low pay serves as a deterrent for anyone considering the teaching profession. However, that deterrent becomes more acute for people who have higher student loan debt.”

Additionally, according to the report, “Student loan debt is an often-overlooked barrier to diversifying the U.S teaching workforce. With targeted interventions that increase teacher pay and ease the burden of student loan debt, progress can be made in eliminating one barrier to attracting and retaining more Black and Latinx students into the teaching profession.”

This report builds on CAP’s “A Quality Education for Every Child” policy agenda and contains a number of policy recommendations for easing teacher debt burdens, including boosting teachers’ salaries, conducting more research on student repayment holistically, using district- or state-based loan forgiveness programs and scholarships as a recruitment tool for a diverse teacher workforce and expanding high-quality alternative certification programs that focus on increasing teacher diversity.

The report also recommends an increase in support for teacher preparation programs at minority-serving institutions and making funds available for additional out-of-pocket expenses such as licensure fees and classroom supplies.

“At the end of the day, America’s changing and we see that most of the public school students identify as non-White, and it is important that they see themselves reflected in the people who educate them,” said Fiddiman. “And unfortunately, at the moment, they don’t. 82% of our teaching workforce identify as White.”

However, according to Fiddiman, it isn’t enough simply to put Black, Latinx, Asian or Asian-Pacific Islander teachers in the classroom if they’re not prepared to be culturally responsive.

“So regardless of who we’re putting into our classrooms we need to make sure that they’re prepared to educate diverse students,” she said. “All teachers should be trained to enter the classroom. And we need to make sure that our educator workforce directly reflects the students who are in our nation’s classrooms.”

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