Recruitment & Retention

How Can Teaching Be More Selective and More Diverse at the Same Time?

By Madeline Will — September 28, 2017 5 min read
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How often are bright students asked if they want to be a teacher?

At a Center for American Progress panel here on Thursday, accomplished educators said they weren’t encouraged to go into teaching until they were near the end, or finished with, college. And that is even more pronounced for students—particularly boys—of color, panelists said.

Panelist Sharif El-Mekki, the co-founder of The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, a teacher-diversity initiative in Philadelphia, said he hears from many white women who say they were encouraged to go into teaching as early as kindergarten or 1st grade. Black men, he said, don’t receive the same encouragement, even if they display the same warm, nuturing characteristics.

“One is receiving a message very explicitly: You are talented, you are trusted with students, you have a role in building a nation,” he said. “And one is hearing deafening silence.”

The crux of the panel discussion was how policymakers and teacher-preparation programs can bolster the diversity of the teaching corps, while still raising the bar on entry into the profession. It coincided with the Center for American Progress’ release of an analysis of 19 states’ education data.

The center subtracted each state’s share of nonwhite teachers from the share of nonwhite students to get the teacher diversity index:

Teacher Diversity Index

“We’re not advocating for parity here,” said Stephenie Johnson, an associate campaign director of K-12 education at the center. “But in some instances, the gap is enormous, and we should reflect on that.”

The center recommends state policymakers work to increase the pipeline of candidates of color by focusing on high school graduation rates and college readiness; close emergency certification routes (which many states are turning to as an antidote to teacher shortages); pay more attention to alternative certification programs, which tend to produce more candidates of color; increase teacher pay; and require teacher-prep programs to meet a high bar in order to obtain recertificaton.

The center also recommends teacher-prep programs maintain flexibility at an individual level of entry; consider multiple measures when admitting candidates; invest in research to decide how predictive those measures are for effectiveness; and engage in more strategic recruitment of candidates of color.

See also: Diversity at Issue as States Weigh Teacher Entry

While minority candidates tend to have lower scores than their white counterparts on traditional selectivity metrics, such as GPAs and licensure-test scores, panelists argued that the priorities of selectivity and diversity were not in competition.

“That concern to me borrows from the idea that there are not enough qualified individuals in the minority population, which is not true,” said Casey Bethel, the 2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year. “It’s not that we don’t have qualified people within these groups. The question is, how do we get a few of them to think about this rewarding profession that I enjoy so much, that I really, really love?”

Increasing Selectivity

Exactly what the right steps are to make the profession more selective (and thus, prestigious) is up for debate. Some groups favor a high bar for entry into teacher-preparation programs, while others prefer an emphasis on exit standards. In 2013, the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or CAEP, unveiled more-ambitious standards for teacher-preparation programs, including for a cohort of students accepted into the program to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and an average score in the top half of the distribution on a nationally normed achievement test.

But the accrediting group later revamped that standard to allow programs to delay meeting the requirements until candidates are ready to graduate.

That’s problematic because teacher-candidates tend to earn higher grades than students with other majors, said Robert Rickenbrode, the senior managing director of teacher-preparation studies for the National Council on Teacher Quality, a group that favors tougher standards for programs.

“You’re not really measuring anything,” he said.

While some states have GPA requirements for individual candidates, setting the standard at the cohort level allows for some flexibility for individuals who have a lower GPA but who might bring other skills into the profession, said Lisette Partelow, the director of K-12 strategic initiatives for the Center of American Progress, who authored the center’s report on selectivity and diversity, which came out earlier this month.

“GPA is something that is useful, but it definitely shouldn’t be the end all-be all,” she said in an interview. “The criteria we use should be evolving based on what we’re finding does correlate and drive results in the classroom.”

Most research has found a small link between a teacher-candidate’s GPA and effectiveness in the classroom, but according to the center’s report, studies have found that other factors, like years of experience, have larger positive impacts on teacher experience.

A High, Flexible Bar

Flexibility is key, said Emery Petchauer, an associate professor of English and of teacher education at Michigan State University. That should extend to GPA, and also to licensure exams, he said.

For example, he said, states could allow for a composite score: If a candidate scores highly in one area of the licensure test, but below the cut-off in another area, the high score would make up for it.

Programs should also consider other indicators, he said, such as performance assessments of candidates’ teaching, demonstrated commitments to educational justice and certain communities, or an “ability to inspire hope in young people.”

“These qualities and characteristics are more connected to the daily work of teachers and more directly related to students than a standardized test score,” he said.

It’s important to remember, he said, that many candidates of color might have attended less-resourced schools before college, which may put them at a disadvantage for taking a standardized high-stakes exam.

That’s why none of this work should be done in isolation, El-Mekki said in an interview.

Teacher-preparation programs should be aware of the barriers for candidates, make sure they are offering sufficient support, and hold themselves accountable for doing so, he said.

“It’s not just saying, ‘here’s the bar,’ it’s high expectations and high support,” El-Mekki said.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.