Barriers remain to diversify California’s teacher workforce

Despite efforts over the years to recruit an educator workforce as racially and ethnically diverse as the students served throughout California, systemic barriers to diversifying the teacher workforce are hindering progress, according to new research from the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools (CTS) and the UCLA Civil Rights Project (CRP).

Released on May 9, Barriers to Racial Equity for Teachers of Color and Indigenous Teachers in California’s Teaching Pipeline and Profession, details obstacles to recruiting and retaining teachers of color and Indigenous teachers (TOCITs) in California’s schools.

While students of color make up 78 percent of the state’s K-12 population, TOCITs comprise just 34 percent of the teaching workforce. Researchers note that despite recent initiatives to recruit and retain more racially diverse teachers over the past few years — including Assembly Bill 520, which allocated $15 million to be distributed to school districts to develop and implement programs that diversify teaching staffs, and Assembly Bill 130, which appropriated $350 million over the next five years to create or expand Teacher Residency Programs (a pathway that has been shown to recruit and retain higher numbers of TOCIT) — significant issues remain that money alone cannot fix.

“Even with these measures, the realities of higher rates of burnout, turnover, and early retirement among TOCIT force us to explore what other factors might be contributing to their departure, or in some cases, their noticeable absence,” researchers wrote. “Pre-service and in-service teachers of color and Indigenous teachers face a number of barriers to racial equity in the classroom and in their careers. As demonstrated throughout this paper, these intersecting barriers can be both overt and covert, and can have a significant impact on the ability of TOCIT to enter, sustain, and thrive in the teaching profession. These barriers have caused a noticeable lack of diversity across the pipeline, which coincidentally exacerbates the issue.”

Key findings and recommendations

Financial challenges: Growing tuition fees, unpaid student teaching, mounting student debt, low salaries and the rising inflation and living expenses are disproportionately magnified for TOCIT.

Recommendation: The report calls for the state to place a high priority on establishing debt-free pathways for pre-service and in-service TOCITs, and to collaborate with local educational agencies to implement stipend programs and more. Additionally, a dedicated “G.I. Bill” tailored for teachers could offer comprehensive coverage that includes tuition and support for future professional development, living expenses, housing stipends, tax breaks and dependent tuition grants.

Structural racism: Study participants reported being underserved in overcrowded programs, undercompensated compared to other high-skilled professions, and their life experiences and perspectives devalued throughout the teacher pipeline and profession.

Recommendation: The best way to combat racial exploitation is to fairly compensate TOCIT for their labor, the report states. This may include providing stipends for their supplemental and support work, such as translation services, discipline duties and mental health guidance for students.

Culture and climate: Many respondents expressed feeling “silenced,” “ignored” or “dismissed” by their colleagues and administration when trying to discuss issues around race and racism, and saw conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as performative and not yielding tangible policy or action.

Recommendation: Among other things, LEAs should maintain a reliable database of incidents and complaints, similar to what the Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Office has for the University of California system. Such databases should be monitored regularly for repeat offenders and to track what actions have been taken to address the issues.

Curriculum and pedagogy: Participants reported restrictions on their autonomy that limit their ability to provide culturally responsive teaching and engage students in critical thinking. TOCITs also voiced concerns that their perspectives and experiences are excluded from the curriculum.

Recommendation: Teacher education programs and LEAs could establish mandatory three- to five-year audits of curriculum to ensure material is culturally relevant, accurate and inclusive, with at least one reviewer that works outside of the organization and has a background or expertise in DEI, ethnic studies, etc. Additionally, researchers said K-12 administrators should stand firm on ideals and policies that best support students in cultivating critical awareness.

Testing: Teacher licensure exams are reported as formidable barriers for workforce entry, imposing stress, time constraints and financial burdens, particularly on pre-service teachers.

Recommendation: Alternative methods for in-service teachers to fulfill credential requirements should be made available, such as demonstrating subject-matter and teaching competency through college coursework or program completion. And for “the benefit of students and teachers, the use of standardized tests should be dramatically reduced and supplemented with more authentic and relevant performance assessments,” researchers concluded. “Performance-based assessments allow for more student-centered learning and give teachers more opportunities to employ the use of culturally responsive teaching practices, which may alleviate their frustrations of having to ‘teach to the test.’”

Read the full report here.