Recruitment & Retention

Improving the Preparation Pipeline for Black Teachers: 5 Ideas From Experts

By Benjamin Herold — October 11, 2022 7 min read
Superintendent Devon Horton speaks to the employees of District 65 during a convocation at Quad Sports Arena on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022 in Evanston, Ill.
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America’s schools are desperate to diversify their teaching force. Education Week asked five experts to suggest in 250 words or less how the nation’s teacher preparation pipeline can be overhauled to work better for candidates of color, especially those who are Black. Their written responses, edited for brevity and clarity, are below.

Decoteau Irby

Decoteau J. Irby
Associate Professor, University of Illinois-Chicago

A healthy, effective preparation pipeline would value Black teachers for the ways their physical presence, life experiences, racial knowledge and ways of doing things all help schools better serve students.

This “influential presence” is widely acknowledged to have a profound positive impact on Black students’ educational lives. Black educators encourage persistence, cultivate a sense of possibility, and aid students in times of duress, going so far as to provide food, housing, and transportation for students who are in need. Black educators also influence the professional practices of adults from other backgrounds, pointing out and challenging low expectations and advocating for students to receive more rigorous instruction. They also frequently give Black caregivers information about which classes their children should take (and avoid) and a heads-up on the teachers who treat Black students in demeaning ways.

Black educators see all of this as part of their work. But they are rarely recognized or paid for taking on these additional responsibilities. That’s why attracting and retaining Black teachers requires a clear message from the field: Your presence is not only influential, but sorely needed and highly valued.

At minimum, this message can be demonstrated by simply recognizing the tremendous value that Black educators’ additional labor adds to schools. Ideally, Black educators who engage in these practices should be compensated accordingly.

Keilani Goggins

Keilani Goggins
Director, Black Educators Initiative, National Center for Teacher Residencies

A healthy, effective preparation pipeline would lower financial barriers by offering stipends, scholarships, emergency funds, and other financial supports. This is especially important to ensure that aspiring teachers of color have access to high-quality, clinically based preparation that honors the complexity of teaching and values their humanity and racial identity.

Currently, many teacher-preparation experiences aren’t quite so comprehensive, don’t provide a culturally affirming environment, and don’t provide much-needed financial help. Research shows that not only do Black teachers earn less than white teachers, but that Black borrowers shoulder more student loan debt. This can contribute to aspiring teachers of color feeling isolated and poorly prepared, as well as carrying significant financial burdens.

To change that, we should invest in what is already working. In our BEI study, we found that financial support to help with barriers such as childcare and test licensure was especially critical to retaining Black teacher candidates. Scaling innovative new models, like providing a living wage stipend to teacher candidates—as we do in the residency model—while also expanding such strategies in traditional teacher preparation programs would dramatically expand access to the profession.

This matters because research clearly shows that both teacher quality and teacher diversity matter. All students benefit from having a teacher of color, and Black students who have just one Black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate from high school and consider going to college than their Black peers.

Desiree Carver Thomas

Desiree Carver-Thomas & Cathy Yun
Researchers, Learning Policy Institute

A healthy, effective preparation pipeline would remove unnecessary gate-keeping mechanisms that keep excellent candidates from entering the profession.

Teacher licensure exams can be a major hurdle for potential teachers of color. First, the exams can be costly. Further, there are high fail rates for many candidates, even though studies have shown that typical multiple-choice exams do not accurately and consistently predict teacher effectiveness.

One result is that teachers of color are less likely to receive high-quality preservice preparation that includes supportive student teaching. Instead, they are more likely to enter the profession on emergency or temporary permits that require little to no preparation. Research shows that teachers with the least preparation are two to three times as likely to leave the profession as those who are comprehensively prepared. Indeed, turnover rates among teachers of color are about 30 percent higher than the rate among white teachers.

Cathy Yun

Some states now give teacher candidates multiple opportunities to demonstrate competency, including through coursework or performance assessments that authentically evaluate readiness for teaching. Performance assessments typically require portfolios, videos of instruction, evaluation of student work, and written reflections explaining teaching decisions. Candidates’ scores on such assessments often predict their students’ academic gains. Compared to typical multiple-choice tests, pass rates on performance assessments also show less severe disparities between white teacher candidates and candidates of color.

Strong preparation and practice-oriented licensure requirements are needed to ensure that excellent teachers of color are not excluded from the profession.

Niral Shah

Niral Shah
Associate Professor, University of Washington

A healthy, effective preparation pipeline would provide race-focused education that is rooted in practice.

Many teachers believe racism is real and requires urgent attention. What they wonder is how to change what they do in the classroom.

Teacher education typically tackles these problems in the wrong order, starting with raising awareness of how racism operates in the classroom, then hoping that awareness translates into instructional strategies. But there is little evidence this happens at scale. That’s why we should start with practices, then focus on awareness. When I work with teachers on a practice like orchestrating class discussions, for example, we first analyze the kinds of questions they specifically ask Black girls or emergent bilingual students, and then that inquiry becomes a catalyst for deeper engagement with concepts like whiteness and misogynoir.

The emphasis should be on practices, while explicitly naming race, racism, and intersections with other social markers like disability, language, and gender.

This vision applies not just to white teachers, but to Black, Indigenous, and other teachers of color as well. These educators bring rich lived experiences to classrooms, but that doesn’t mean they automatically know how to design anti-racist learning environments. Through strategies such as coaching and ongoing collaboration with colleagues, a focus on race-explicit teaching practices can support teachers over the span of their careers, not just in one-day workshops.

Sharif E Melki

Sharif El-Mekki
Founder & CEO, Center for Black Educator Development

A healthy, effective teacher preparation pipeline would acknowledge that Brown v. Board of Education is the linchpin of our current staffing crisis.

Tens of thousands of Black educators lost jobs after the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling that segregated schooling is unconstitutional. To course-correct and repair that loss requires fundamental change.

We can begin by improving the climate in the school systems we claim we want Black students to return to and teach in. Absent this, experts like Christopher Emdin describe efforts to recruit more Black teachers as tantamount to asking someone to revisit the scene of a crime in which they were the victims.

We must also ensure that those whose job it is to prepare, support, and manage Black teachers are culturally proficient. Having an anti-racist mindset and showing evidence of effective implementation of anti-racist practices is crucial. From school boards to human resources directors, district leaders to college faculty, everyone involved in this pipeline should be held accountable for the recruitment, support, and retention of aspiring Black educators.

Listening to Black students and educators is also a must. You can start by reading our recent report, To Be Who We Are: Black Teachers on Creating Affirming School Cultures

The message is clear: If the entire ecosystem isn’t addressing the anti-Blackness that remains rampant inside our K-12 teacher pipeline, just as it was in 1954, it will be harder to attract and retain the teachers our children need.

Coverage of race, opportunity, and equity is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.


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