Financial incentives come out on top in teacher diversity report

Research has shown time and again that all students benefit academically and socially from having a non-white teacher, especially students of color. Twenty percent of the teacher workforce as of 2020 was composed of people of color, compared to just over 50 percent of students, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Researchers from RAND aimed to understand the systemic barriers faced by teacher candidates of color and ways to bridge those gaps through a new survey.

Prioritizing Strategies to Racially Diversify the K–12 Teacher Workforce: Findings from the State of the American Teacher and State of the American Principal Surveys asked teachers of color about their experiences and insights into the policies and practices they thought would be most effective for recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers of color. The report also includes findings from a panel of policymakers, practitioners and researchers in the teacher preparation and retention field.

Key findings 

Teachers and panelists prioritized financial strategies for recruitment. The most popular recruitment strategies mentioned were student loan forgiveness and service scholarships with 58 percent of teachers of color choosing this option. A higher percentage of Black teachers (67 percent) chose this recruitment mechanism, which the report attributes to studies showing Black teachers tend to carry more student debt than their peers. Other suggestions for lowering the cost of teacher preparation programs included lowered license fees and payment for student teaching.

Teachers prioritized diversity in staff and curriculum in teacher preparation programs. Through a variety of approaches, survey respondents indicated that improving diversity in teacher preparation programs would encourage entry and success in the profession. About one-third supported expanding preparation programs at minority-serving institutions and creating or expanding residency programs. Another third of respondents supported creating peer groups for perspective teachers of color in preparation programs and/or matching candidates of color with mentor teachers of color. The need for curriculum that reflects the experiences of teachers of color was also called for.

Panelists ranked grow-your-own programs highly; teachers did not. Sixty-four percent of panelists selected grow-your-own programs as an effective recruitment strategy for teachers of color. However, just 9 percent of surveyed teachers chose this approach. Researchers wrote this may be due to unfamiliarity with the term, as some respondents described similar programs as helpful.

Ending or reducing certification requirements performed very poorly in the survey. No panelists and 10 percent of teachers endorsed ending or reducing certification requirements or eliminating academic admission standards for teacher preparation programs.

Increased pay is number one factor in teacher hiring and retention. Increasing teacher salaries throughout the pay scale was the most selected approach among those that we listed in the survey. Student loan forgiveness or loan payment assistance were also listed as effective hiring practices. “Loan forgiveness is among several financial incentives associated with more-diverse teacher workforces, along with bonuses for effective teachers and compensation for working in schools with more challenging working conditions,” wrote researchers.

Teachers supported an array of retention strategies and panelists agreed upon better preparing principals and supporting new teachers of color in high-need schools. Both groups agreed that new teachers of color in high-need schools should receive extra supports and that more training for principals to support teachers of color could be a viable strategy. Surveyed teachers also said that working with other staff of color and positive relationships with colleagues could boost retention.

Read the report here.