Decades of research have found that diversity in the teaching workforce has specific benefits to students of color and overall benefits for all students. Teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color, including improved reading and math test scores, improved graduation rates and increases in aspirations to attend college. Students of color and white students report having positive perceptions of their teachers of color, including feeling cared for and academically challenged, and greater diversity of teachers may mitigate feelings of isolation, frustration and fatigue that can contribute to individual teachers of color leaving the profession when they feel they are alone.
In California, 22 percent of the student population is white, while 61 percent of the teacher workforce is white. The largest percentage of students of color is Latino at 54 percent, while just 21 percent of teachers share that demographic. The California Department of Education is working to change those demographics to more accurately reflect the student body through new initiatives. One such initiative is the Educator Diversity Advisory Group, convened by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and chaired by Travis Bristol, associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley and National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Board of Directors chair.
The purpose of the advisory group was to provide recommendations to Thurmond on how the CDE can recruit, support and retain teachers of color across California. Members of group went straight to those in the field, developing a bottom-up approach to policymaking. The group held four virtual convenings with practitioners across California at various levels — county offices of education, local educational agencies, school administrators and leadership support organizations, and current classroom teachers — to obtain insights on the efforts being made and barriers experienced to promoting greater educator diversity. Importantly, the group asked how the CDE can support and deepen these efforts.
Five recommendations from the group have been released in a report, “How to Increase the Diversity of California’s Educator Workforce.” An accompanying webinar on March 30 contained presentations on the recommendations by members of the advisory group.
“The report really speaks to what we heard from people who are closest to the pain, closest to the margins, and closest to the work,” said Bristol, introducing the webinar.
- Create communities of practice for LEAs to build their capacity to recruit, support and retain teachers of color. The CDE should help by documenting and disseminating information about what counties and districts are doing statewide to foster dialogue about the critical importance of educator diversity and increase the resources available to support the work. “During our virtual meetings last year, we heard it from just about everyone: it’s essential for educational stakeholders to learn from one another in an intentional way,” said Sarah Lillis, advisory group member and executive director, Teach Plus California. “This recommendation puts the onus on the state department to create these intentional spaces and then respond to the needs of counties and districts. Ideally, an outcome of these communities of practice is that the CDE, the [California Collaborative for Educational Excellence] and the [Commission on Teacher Credentialing] might work as a collaborative umbrella and become the hub for gathering information, documenting programs and sharing resources via websites and individual teams and departments.”
- Maintain sustainable funding, measure outcomes for teacher diversity and identify focal support factors at the state, county and district levels. This recommendation would establish a state-led research and advisory board to study ongoing diversity efforts with the goal of producing an annual brief on accomplishments and areas of continuous improvement. It would also create funding streams for subsidizing the preparation of education leaders, with a special focus on recruiting and supporting educator of color to become principals.
- Provide guidance and accountability for LEAs so grant funds support the development of foundational equity-based processes/practices. The CDE should provide guidance to districts on incorporating educator diversity and equity through iterative goal setting and assessment through the Local Control and Accountability Plan process. Additional guidance should be provided to counties for reviewing and providing critical feedback and support to districts in that process. Guidance is especially needed as districts receive grant money and try to determine the most sustainable ways to use those funds. “Under this umbrella, the ask is to provide access to models of recruitment and retention programs for teachers of color, including models for developing Grow Your Own programs,” said Shelly Gupton, advisory group member, California Teachers Association director and Elk Grove Unified teacher. The siloed nature of these efforts concerned her and others in the field. “I was often thinking [during our meetings] that the things going on with the state don’t seem to trickle down into the classroom. My colleagues have no idea that these programs are out there.”
- Promote deeper partnerships and collaboration among LEAs, institutes of higher education (IHEs), and community-based organizations to build institutional pathways for candidates of color. Lillis explained the overlap in many of the recommendations is intentional. She talked about the importance of “recognizing that this conversation centers on the understanding that racism and other barriers are institutional barriers that require an institutional response. The work can’t be done with institutions working in silos.” This recommendation would have the CDE work as a hub and a convener to help these institutions to see the connections among themselves. “We are looking to the state department of education to foster really intentional relationships,” said Lillis. “To be the convener and center the trajectory of the teacher candidate experience from the point of recruitment through the licensure obstacles, through credentialing and into those first years of teaching. There is a real need in the field for that constructive connection and partnership.”
- Develop a public awareness campaign for recruiting teachers of color; continue to co-sponsor educator diversity statewide legislation that supports the recruitment and retention of teachers of color. The group emphasized CDE’s role in identifying and disseminating information to the public about legal and social barriers to providing access for educators of color, including how Proposition 209 limits the ability of the state to work with LEAs to and IHEs to develop recruitment and retention programs. Another repeated concern from the field was continuing to expand the multiple pathways of demonstrating subject matter competency for teacher certification that addresses the systemic testing barriers to teacher licensure.