The federal focus on teachers’ knowledge of their subjects threatens to push aside the important aim of bringing more minority candidates into a workforce that is overwhelmingly white, contends a report released here last week by a coalition of teacher and higher education groups.
“Assessment of Diversity in America’s Teaching Force: A Call to Action” is available online from the National Education Association. ()
The report charges that the failure to win greater racial and ethnic diversity in the teacher ranks hampers achievement among minority children and weakens the ability of schools to serve all comers.
“Studies have indicated that students of color have higher academic, personal, and social performance when taught by teachers of their own ethnic group,” said Rushern L. Baker III, the executive director of the Washington-based Community Teachers Institute.
Mr. Baker’s group, which seeks to prepare “culturally connected” teachers, is one of six members of the coalition, the National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force. Other members are the National Education Association, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Council on Education, the Association of Teacher Educators, and Recruiting New Teachers.
Nearly 40 percent of public school students are children of color, while only about 11 percent of their teachers fit that description, according to the study.
The report questions the role of high-stakes tests that aspiring teachers need to pass for their licenses, noting, for example, that “in most instances,” fewer than half of black test-takers pass teacher-entrance exams. And it criticizes the federal No Child Left Behind Act as setting up further barriers into the profession for minority applicants and for failing to “spell out cultural competence and diversity” as part of teacher quality.
The federal law, which Congress passed in late 2001, lays out requirements for teachers to be labeled “highly qualified.” Generally, that means passing a test of subject-matter knowledge or holding a major in the subject taught.
Under the law, states are allowed to set alternative standards, but the additional route should also show that teachers have mastered the subjects they teach.
The federal law has no requirement for training in teaching methods or for classroom experience.
What Is the Relationship?
The coalition’s study calls for “significantly greater resources” to be spent on recruiting, preparing, and supporting teachers of color to increase their numbers. It also recommends strengthening professional development for all teachers in high-poverty, high-minority schools, with an emphasis on understanding the communities they serve.
Finally, the authors say, more research is needed into the relationship among teachers’ ethnicity, student learning, and specific teaching techniques, as well as how aspiring teachers fare on tests and in training programs.
Although the coalition’s report highlights a mismatch in race and ethnicity between the students in public schools and their teachers that has long been disturbing to many, some public-policy experts call for caution when it comes to spending significant money to increase the number of minority teachers.
“We have very limited resources in education, so it’s a question of where we place our bets,” said Jane Hannaway, the director of the education policy center at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.
“It may well be a worthwhile use, but I don’t think we know yet. … We’re just starting to scratch the surface,” Ms. Hannaway said, of what makes a teacher effective.
She added that with states constructing huge new databases of test results for individuals over time, partly in response to the No Child Left Behind Act, the day might not be long in coming when the value of a match between minority teachers and students could be shown.
A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2004 edition of Education Week as NCLB Imperils Minority Hiring, Group Asserts