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With Larry Ferlazzo

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Education Opinion

Response: Increasing The Diversity Of America’s Teachers

By Larry Ferlazzo — September 20, 2015 22 min read
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(This is the last post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.)

This week’s question (and the first question of the school year) is:

How are school districts, universities, alternative teacher preparation programs, and individual leaders, teachers, and community groups responding to the call to increase the racial/ethnic diversity of our country’s teaching force?

This question, and the columns providing responses, comprise a special project being guest-hosted by Travis Bristol, PhD (Stanford Center For Opportunity Policy in Education) & Terrenda White, PhD (University of Colorado-Boulder).

Dr. White provided an introduction to this three-part series ten days ago. Both she and Dr. Bristol, as well as Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and many other teachers, discussed some of the reasons for this Teachers of Color ‘Disappearance Crisis’ and its impact in a series appearing here this past January.

You can also listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Dr. Bristol on my BAM! Radio Show about this topic and see a list of, and links to, previous shows.

Part One in this series highlighted ways school districts are recruiting teachers of color and Part Three will spotlight the work of alternative teacher preparation programs and charter schools, as well as community-based efforts on the part of parents

Part Two focused on what universities are doing to recruit more teachers of color.

Today’s post will focus on how alternative certification programs, charter schools, and parent and community-based initiatives are responding to the call to increase the racial/ethnic diversity of America’s teachers.

Below, we draw attention to a national program, as well as initiatives in Charlottesville, Virginia, New York City, Phoenix, Arizona, and Indianapolis, Indiana focused on recruiting and supporting teachers of color.

In addition, we include responses to this series from readers, and end with policy recommendations from Dr. Travis Bristol.

Response From Raegen Miller, Teach for America

Raegen Miller is Vice President for Research Partnerships at Teach For America. His work as a researcher, policy analyst, and teacher-educator rests on a foundation of classroom teaching, over ten years in a variety of settings. He was trained at the Stanford Teacher Education Program before Teach For America existed:

Teach For America - Teacher Diversity

Diversity is one of Teach For America’s core values. Maximizing the diversity of our teaching corps ensures that we are enlisting the country’s top talent, whether they share the backgrounds of students affected by educational inequity or come from backgrounds of privilege.

TFA recently marked our first quarter-century by welcoming the newest teaching corps, which is as accomplished as ever and among our most diverse. Nearly half of our new teachers identify as people of color (compared with less than 20 percent of teachers nationwide); 47 percent come from a low-income background; 34 percent are the first in their family to graduate from college; and 1 in 3 come to the corps from graduate school or with prior professional experience. We’re dedicated to doing as much as we can to promote a diverse and effective teaching force.

As this school year begins, Teach For America will have more than 50,000 corps members and alumni across more than 50 regions. We will continue to be the largest preparer of public school teachers for low-income communities and are committed to continuing to be one of the country’s most diverse sources of talent for the classroom.

Why Teacher Diversity Matters

Teach For America believes that ensuring our teacher and alumni force is representative of students most impacted by educational inequity is essential to developing the solutions we need to ensure educational opportunity for all. Since educational inequity is largely drawn along lines of race and class, it is particularly important to foster the leadership of those who share the backgrounds of the students we serve. It’s clear that students benefit when they can see themselves reflected in their teachers, who are often children’s first adult role models outside of the home. But diversity in the classroom is essential not just because students ought to see themselves in their dynamic and effective teachers, but because a diverse workforce drives creativity and unlocks innovation.

How Teach For America is Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Teachers

Each year, Teach For America refines its approach to recruiting and selecting candidates for the corps, informed by research on the skills and practices of our most successful educators. We’ve refined our efforts to reach a wider range of outstanding candidates by reaching out to and meeting individually with many more potential applicants, increasing outreach to professionals from all sectors, and developing additional partnerships with diverse organizations that can help support these efforts in building a strong pipeline of diverse leaders. In addition, we’re reaching out to prospective corps members much earlier and engaging them in ways that give them a fuller picture of what Teach For America does.

We’re dedicated to promoting a diverse and effective teaching force and have a number of initiatives and recruiting efforts in place to ensure that those who identify as African American, Latino, Native American, AAPI, LGBTQ, and more view teaching in our schools as a viable and worthwhile career option. As an example of this, in concert with our support of the DREAM Act, we partnered with schools and districts to create a path to teaching for individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Approximately 50 new DACAmented teachers joined TFA’s corps this year, bringing the total number of DACAmented corps members to more than 90 teaching in 12 regions nationwide.

Teach For America selects areas to study each year to better understand our most effective teachers, and some of our most recent research has looked at the impact of an applicant’s experience in low-income communities and his or her efforts and determination to reach goals over time. Findings in these areas led us to place more emphasis on gathering insight into these two elements during the admissions process, which has contributed to a more diverse corps.

Response From Jaime-Duke Hawkins, Ravenn R. Gethers, Scott Guggenheimer, African American Teaching Fellows of Charlottesville-Albemarle, Inc.

Jaime-Duke Hawkins is the Program Director for African American Teaching Fellows (AATF). She graduated from The University of Virginia in 2001, with a BA in American History and an MT in Elementary Education. She taught for 10 years with Charlottesville City Schools, prior to working with AATF.

Ravenn Gethers is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Enhancement Depatment at the American University of Antigua College of Medicine and a doctoral candidate in Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership at the College of William & Mary.

Scott Guggenheimer has served K-12 education for over ten years, as a classroom teacher, an OST program manager, and as the executive director of African American Teaching Fellows. He currently works for D.C. Public Schools as the manager of the Mary Jane Patterson Fellowship, an internal leadership development program:

African American Teaching Fellows of Charlottesville-Albemarle, Inc. (AATF) is a registered 501 (c) (3) incorporated in 2005 with a mission to recruit, support, develop, and retain a cadre of African American teachers to serve the Charlottesville City and Albemarle County public schools in Virginia. Our fellowship enables African American college students to pay for college, develop into premier teachers, establish a sense of collegiality with one another, foster connections to the community, and succeed in obtaining and retaining a teaching position.

In Charlottesville and Albemarle, there are ten students for every teacher. However, only one out of ten teachers is African American. In other words, for every 122 students, there is 1 African American teacher. Our community serves over 15,000 students and employs more than 1,500 teachers, but there are fewer than 150 African American teachers working in our schools. In Charlottesville City, 38% of students are African American and only 13% of the teachers are African American. Similarly, in Albemarle County, 11% of students are African American and 6% of the teachers are African American.

A diverse cadre of teachers in the Charlottesville-Albemarle community presents implications for our community’s public school students.

AATF recruits African American students enrolled in Virginia teacher preparation programs at the University of Virginia, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University, Mary Baldwin College, James Madison University, and Liberty University. As space is limited, AATF employs a competitive selection process consisting of an application, short answer essays, and a panel interview. AATF’s scholarships provide tuition assistance for up to three years. In exchange for the funding, each Fellow commits to teach in the Charlottesville-Albemarle public school systems for the amount of time equivalent to the years of funding received.

Upon accepting an AATF offer, Fellows immediately begin receiving professional development and retention activities that align with 21st Century Skills. This program, known as the Teacher-Leader Institute, is designed to enhance workforce readiness skills and the technical training that s/he will need to attain a full-time teaching role, succeed as a teacher, and connect with one another and the community. Fellows participate in a number of workshops and activities which include preparing for the hiring process, mock interviews with local administrators, getting to know the schools in the community, as well as how to set up your classroom. Participation in the Fellowship, allows Fellows organically to become a support system for one another. In addition, each Fellow is assigned a mentor--a current, local educator, who helps to facilitate professional growth and development and ultimately, support a Fellow as s/he prepares and enters the hiring process.

The prospect of financial support typically draws prospective applicants to AATF. Lessons learned during Fellow recruitment inform a recommendation for policymakers to consider instituting an expedited student loan repayment plan for students seeking roles in the teaching profession. This policy may address teacher shortages by increasing the amount of students considering a teaching career. In turn, there would be a larger applicant pool from which our organization can recruit Fellows.

Since AATF’s inception, we have had remarkable success. One-hundred percent of our Fellows have remained in Charlottesville-Albemarle after fulfilling their teaching commitment. There are a total of 25 Fellows teaching in the state of Virginia. Out of that twenty-five, sixteen Fellows are currently teaching in the Charlottesville-Albemarle community.

Response From Shea Reeder, Success Academy Charter School

Shea Reeder is from New York, where she resides with her husband and 2 kids. Shea has worked for Success Academy for the past 5 years. She is currently in her 2nd year as principal of Success Academy Bronx 4 Charter School located in the South Bronx:

I have been in education long enough to know that I cannot create an amazing school alone. As a former classroom teacher and now an administrator of a recently opened charter school in NYC, I know it takes a strong leader who understands the local community in which the school is located and also someone who can build lasting relationships with the community and her staff. This year marks my 10th year in education and it was a chance for me to make a difference within a community where failing schools are the unfortunate norm.

My school is located in the Bronx, where too many failing schools are locked in a paradigm of low expectations for students, coupled with limited opportunities for success, and broader concerns related to lack of safety and violence. As an African American woman with young children of my own, I felt honored to take the helm and position my school as a beacon of light and voice for a community of parents who deserve more for their children.

When I opened my charter school, my vision was centered on building relationships with the families and our scholars, as well as with my team of teachers. When preparing for my first year as a school leader, I knew that I needed a team of teachers who shared my vision for a strong and caring community that fostered parental engagement and rigorous approaches to instruction that would engage children at a high level.

As is the case for the vast majority of schools across the country, most of my teachers are White. My organization openly acknowledges that we have to do a better job and are currently developing an initiative to recruit more minority employees. While creating a more diverse organization is the goal, in the meantime, we feel an urgency to continuously open schools, but must find a way to balance that given the very few administrators of color. The nature of the job [in my organization] is also very demanding and not for everyone, regardless of ethnicity.

Regardless, I try to make sure my teachers have time and support to be fully prepared to teach. I am in their classrooms, observing and giving feedback, consulting and coaching. This level of support helps new teachers be successful, and that is key to retention.

As an organization, we do an excellent job of training teachers on how to execute the curriculum and behavioral management techniques. But I know from experience there are additional skills that go beyond the curriculum. To be effective, we must build an understanding about the population we serve and use that understanding to better handle the various situations that can happen over the course of the year. Being a woman of color was definitely an advantage for me in this regard, and I am proud of my ability to understand and reach the families of my students on a deeper level. It is important to me to make sure that I educate my staff on how to work with the families from the community that we serve. So this academic school year, I will continue to do everything I can to increase my staff’s diversity while meeting the community’s demands to maintain strong positive relationships.

Response From Breshawn Harris, Ph.D and Christopher Billingsley

Dr. Breshawn Harris, a native of Phoenix, AZ, received her B.A. in Communications from Howard University; her Master’s of Education in Educational Counseling from Northern Arizona University, and her PhD in Higher Education Administration from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Harris is entering her 16th year in education teaching College, Career and Readiness, and Strategic Reading classes in the Phoenix area.

Christopher Billingsley, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, received his B.S. degree in Technical & Occupational Education from the University of Southern Mississippi; a Master’s of Arts in Educational Counseling, and is currently a doctoral student pursuing Educational Leadership at Grand Canyon University. Mr. Billingsley served in the United States Air Force:

Why Teacher Diversity Matters

As very active and engaged parents in our children’s lives, as well as secondary educators, we understand the significance in discussing the need for teacher diversity in Phoenix, Arizona where the teachers of color are disproportionately outnumbered by their White counterparts. In 2010, lawmakers in the state of Arizona proposed and passed a law to ban ethnic studies courses in Tucson, which targeted specific ethnic groups. An example included banning the Mexican Studies curriculum in K-12 public schools. Yet, in 2012, the Hispanic population was the largest elementary school population in Arizona for grades K through second grade.

The Center for American Progress revealed, in 2011, 80% of Arizona school teachers were White, 16% Hispanic, 3% Black, and 1% identified as mixed races. The number of minority professionals serving as teachers should be proportionate to the number of students enrolled in the school and in the community. However, in order to have a teacher population representative of a school’s student population, the issue of recruiting and retaining qualified teachers needs to be addressed.

Recruiting and retaining qualified teachers is a local priority in Phoenix, Arizona. To change this ongoing undesirable condition and the changing demographics of Arizona’s schools, greater focus needs to be drawn to increasing teacher diversity. The following recruitment measures were offered and used by a school district in Phoenix, Arizona.


  1. Create media announcements and place job advertisements in minority community newspapers, on radio stations targeting minorities, in church bulletins and billboards.
  2. Minority employees should accompany human resource administrators on job fairs.
  3. Use of visuals promoting district diversity when recruiting minority teachers to emphasize diversity.
  4. Consider recruitment in cities where diverse population is the norm. Cities include: New York City, Miami, Dallas, and Nashville. Teachers in these cities are accustomed to diverse student population.
  5. Recruit from minority teaching programs from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions. Also, provide teachers of color a financial stipend to help offset the fees associated with the teacher certification process.

These recruitment efforts were used to hire more teachers of color (two Hispanic teachers and two African American teachers) in a particular school in Phoenix. Additionally, plans to recruit more teachers of color will expand to cities in the southern and northeastern regions of the United States. This year’s recruitment efforts to hire more teachers of color will utilize all recruitment strategies listed above.

Response From Blake Nathan and David McGuire; Educate ME Foundation, Inc.

Blake Nathan teaches engineering and technology at Stonybrook Middle School in the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township located in Indianapolis, IN. Mr. Nathan is the CEO and Founder of the Educate ME Foundation, which promotes the development of African American male educators in the urban, middle, and secondary school settings through mentorship with current practitioners.

David McGuire is passionate 7th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher in Indianapolis. He is a PhD student at Indiana State University in Educational Leadership K-12 Supervision:

Educate ME Foundation, INC’s goal is to increase the number of African American males in the field of education; this can be accomplished by creating a pipeline of educators. Currently, the Indianapolis School District has a 53% African American student population compared to their 20% White student population. Additionally of the teachers that serve these students, 81% are White and only 14% are Black.

Through our Educate ME Series we collaborate with high schools in Indianapolis to target specific African American males students, who we feel can be developed into effective teachers in the future. The Educate ME Series (EMS) takes a holistic approach to leadership development.The participants of the series are trained to be leaders of change and innovation.The EMS guide participants to focus on key levels of effective education leadership and also support development of innovative solutions to impact students and their families.The series is designed to increase engagement, retention and leadership rates for our male educators of color.

In the Summer of 2016 Educate ME will launch its inaugural Project REAL (Realizing Excelling Achieving through Learning) Summer Institute. In partnership with the Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis School of Education, Educate ME will host 25 young men for a four week summer training. The institute will consist of academic development, leadership training, teacher training, and conclude with a week long summer teaching assignment. Our goal of the program is to create a pipeline of young men who will eventually graduate high school and transition to college with an emphasis on majoring in education and becoming a teacher in the Indianapolis public school system.

Responses From Readers


Do you really want to attract more successful Black and Latino Men, with degrees in math or science? Increase the pay, improve the working environment, and restore respect and reputation to the profession. How many successful White males, with science or math degrees go into teaching? About the same low percentages as minorities. Unfortunately, teachers are still seriously underpaid, and if you hold a degree that can get you a job that will give you satisfaction, good pay, great benefits, respect and status, and keep you away from vultures trying to blame you from all of society’s ills, why go into teaching?

Policy Recommendations By Dr. Travis Bristol

Over the coming months, U.S. presidential candidates will begin to add substance to their education agendas; this three-part series should inform their policies aimed at improving our nation’s public schools. As Dr. White discussed in her introduction, the country’s current teacher shortage is due in part to weak recruitment and retention of all teachers, and particularly teachers of color. Based on the promising initiatives from this three-part series, there are clear steps forward to increase the pipeline of racially and ethnically diverse educators and strengthen the conditions for their retention. To outline some of these steps, I provide the following recommendations for national, state, and local education policymakers.

National education policymakers should launch a “Grow Your Own” grants program. The U.S. Department of Education, through its discretionary grants program, should spur local innovation by requiring urban districts to partner with teacher education programs to create a pipeline that prepares students to return, as teachers, to the communities in which they were educated. The Pathways2Teaching program provides a model of how the University of Colorado Denver and neighboring urban school districts are working to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of teachers.

State education policymakers should also provide similar grants that support “Grow Your Own” programs. Moreover, state officials should ensure that teacher preparation programs have the resources to support pre-service teachers of color from entry through completion. The Center of Pedagogy in collaboration with the Teacher Education Advocacy Center at Montclair State University in New Jersey is one model of ongoing support for candidates of color; candidates work with a full-time advisor who provides personalized support from adjusting to college life, to academic and financial assistance. Additionally, state education officials should provide scholarships for perspective educators of color. Subsidized certification programs, such as Teach for America, have proven successful in attracting candidates of color.

Local education policymakers should coordinate a multi-sector approach for increasing a district’s racial and ethnic teacher workforce. Too often school districts bear sole responsibility for recruiting teachers of color and are unsuccessful because of an inability to design initiatives that can attend to out of school factors (e.g. affordable housing). New York City’s initiative to recruit 1,000 male teachers of color is a joint collaboration with the Office of the Mayor, the city’s Department of Education, and the City University of New York.

Finally, a word of caution: Human capital policy levers such as increasing the racial and ethnic composition of teachers in a school or district will not close persistent learning gaps between historically marginalized youth and their more economically privileged peers. Policies aimed at diversifying the teacher workforce should be one part of a comprehensive system-wide approach that increases the expectations for learning for adults and students, while providing the necessary resources to meet these expectations (Darling-Hammond, Wilhoit, & Pittenger, 2014; Snyder & Bristol, 2015).


Darling-Hammond, L., Wilhoit, G., & Pittenger, L. (2014). Accountability for college and career readiness: Developing a new paradigm. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22(86).

Snyder, J., & Bristol, T. J. (2015). Professional accountability for improving life, college, and career readiness. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(16).

Thanks to Dr. Bristol and Dr. White for “guest-hosting this series, and to Raegen Miller, Jaime-Duke Hawkins, Ravenn R. Gethers, Scott Guggenheimer, Dr. Breshawn Harris, Christopher Billingsley, Blake Nathan and David McGuire, and to readers, for their contributions!

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