Recruitment & Retention From Our Research Center

Districts Want More Teachers of Color But Don’t Do Enough to Recruit Them, Survey Finds

By Ileana Najarro — February 15, 2023 5 min read
Diverse people waiting for an interview.
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Growing research points to the need to diversify the teaching profession as the national student body itself becomes more racially and ethnically diverse. And there’s more insight now into what it takes to both recruit and retain teachers of color.

But when it comes to actually doing it, districts are not taking enough concrete steps to attract racially and ethnically diverse applicants.

That’s according to a January survey for EdRecruiter, conducted by the EdWeek Research Center. The survey asked 403 recruiters from public schools, charters, and private/parochial schools across the country how race and ethnicity factored into districts’ hiring processes.

Forty-seven percent of respondents said that while they try to find racially and ethnically diverse candidates, they don’t get enough applicants no matter what they do. Only 20 percent said they take concrete steps to ensure that candidates for jobs are racially and ethnically diverse.

When presented with a list of possible recruitment policies districts might use to seek out diverse candidates (including recruiting at job fairs at historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and community colleges) 48 percent of respondents said their district does not use any of them.

Thirteen percent said they used another strategy to seek a diverse applicant pool.

To researchers, the survey findings are disappointing but not surprising. That includes Margarita Bianco, associate professor in the school of education and human development at the University of Colorado Denver, and Ramon Goings, associate professor in the language, literacy, and culture doctoral program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County—who co-authored the introduction to the chapter on recruitment in the new “Handbook of Research on Teachers of Color and Indigenous Teachers.”

“I talk to people all the time who say, yes, they want an ethno-racial, diverse teacher workforce, but they’re just not doing enough,” Bianco said. “I mean, they’re not doing enough to keep the teachers that they have, never mind try to recruit them.”

An obstacle, Goings said, could be hesitance from school districts to put policies in place specific to hiring more racially and ethnically diverse candidates because it might come across as an effort to advance a certain group over another.

But being direct and deliberate in efforts to diversify a teacher workforce that has for years been predominantly white is key.

“If you want this to change, then you’re going to have to explicitly change it because if we do what we’ve been doing we’re going to get the same result.”

Advice on how to diversify recruitment pools

Bianco and Goings offer the following recommendations for what districts can do to diversify their staff.

Sustain long-term relationships with minority-serving institutions

While 26 percent of survey respondents said they recruit at job fairs at minority-serving institutions such as HBCUs and community colleges, Bianco said that school districts need to do more than just visit these institutions once for a recruiting fair.

“They should be developing relationships with the department of teacher education in these schools,” she said.

Invest in grow-your-own programs

District recruiters looking for the future workforce sometimes don’t need to look further than their own schools.

They can offer concurrent enrollment classes so that high school students can get college credit that will then transfer to a local teacher prep program, Bianco said.

Pathways2Teaching, where she is an executive director, for instance, is one organization that schools can refer to in building out such programs.

But not all districts are investing in this, Bianco said, because it’s a long-term strategy when districts prefer a quick fix.

Think outside the box in outreach

Goings recommends school districts leverage social media as a way to get in front of applicants when they may not be able to go physically and recruit them, especially younger candidates.

“No one knows about you because we don’t see you online,” Goings said.

There are also opportunities for districts to tap into existing staff for referrals, he added.

Review your human resources department

It’s important that school districts think critically about who in their human resources office is responsible for recruitment and hiring decisions and whether these individuals agreed on the need for more teachers of color, Goings said.

Otherwise, these departments can end up being gatekeepers who prevent the hiring of qualified candidates of color.

Rethink the standards for the best candidate

Even if districts do all the work to build up a diverse candidate pool, Bianco said there also needs to be a reevaluation of what makes someone “the best candidate.”

In some cases, the best is defined as someone with a GPA of 4.0 with credentials from a top school. But that isn’t necessarily the best person for a specific district’s needs.

“My definition of the best and the brightest are the young people who are really rooted in their community, who want to make change and effect change in their community for the better,” Bianco said. “But those are sometimes the young people who have the lowest GPAs because they’ve been disenfranchised by a system that was never designed for them to be successful to begin with.

“So I want those young people who have been disenfranchised, who have been marginalized by that system, who want to come back and disrupt the same inequities that they’ve experienced.”

And it’s not about lowering standards, Bianco added. It’s about finding the candidate who brings about the change districts are looking for. That often won’t be the candidate with the same details in their CV as those hired before.

To succeed at recruitment, review retention

Though districts focus a great deal on recruitment, retention of existing teachers of color is also important, Bianco said.

“If I’m a new Latina, graduating from a [Hispanic-serving institution] and I’m looking for a teaching job, one of the things I’m going to look for is, who’s my community when I get there? And how is the school serving the population that I want to serve?” she said.

Teachers of color pay attention to whether there is a lot of turnover at schools and what policies may be in place that can make their work easier or harder.

“Teachers of color want to work in places where their voices are going to matter,” Bianco said.

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