The U.S. teaching profession is not selective enough, many argue. And few would say the nation’s overwhelmingly white teaching corps is diverse enough.
But increasing both the selectivity and the diversity of the teaching profession may seem like contradictory goals to some. Minority candidates tend to have lower scores than their white counterparts on traditional selectivity metrics, such as GPAs and licensure-test scores.
For the last several years, many states have been trying to find a balance that gets them closer to both goals. A new report by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank based in Washington, has reignited the conversation. The report argues that if states and teacher-preparation programs think comprehensively, selectivity and diversity are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, said Lisette Partelow, the lead author of the report and the director of K-12 strategic initiatives for the center, the two goals can be mutually reinforcing. If done right, she said, more teachers of color will want to enter a profession that is seen as prestigious.
“I think that it is absolutely right to say that there should not be a trade-off between having more teachers of color in the United States of America, and having effective teachers in America,” said Benjamin Riley, the executive director of Deans for Impact, a nonprofit group of education school deans. “The answer to, ‘Can you have both?’ is yes, but it requires a lot of energy, resources, and attention to the issue.”
Exactly what the right steps are to solve the issue 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 average GPA of 3.0 and scores averaging in the top half on nationally normed achievement tests.
But the accrediting group later revised 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.
More than half the states use the CAEP standards to evaluate the quality of their programs—including Rhode Island, which the Center for American Progress highlights in its report for its commitment to both selectivity and diversity, with early results showing slight progress in the latter.
The Rhode Island education department drafted new standards and started evaluating its teacher education programs against them last year. The standards call for programs to recruit high-quality candidates who reflect the state’s diverse student population, as well as ratchet up the selectivity criteria.
“I know there’s a lot of folks who think those are competing priorities, but we really see this as a both/and conversation, not an either/or,” said Mary Ann Snider, the department’s deputy commissioner for teaching and learning. “Some of our diverse and best and brightest students really want to go into a profession they see as challenging, not something you go into because it has low expectations.”
The state plans to hold programs accountable by collecting and publishing diversity rates. And in addition to a cohort minimum GPA of 3.0, individual undergraduate candidates in Rhode Island must have a minimum 2.75 GPA upon entry into the program. That requirement goes further than many states, Partelow said.
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, she said.
“GPA is something that is useful, but it definitely shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all,” she said. “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 Partelow said that studies found that other factors, like years of experience, also have positive impacts. Snider acknowledged that, but said it is important for prospective teachers to have a baseline level of literacy and numeracy.
“A GPA individually does not forecast whether a teacher will be a strong instructor in the end, but it’s one indication of academic readiness,” she said.
Still, the state does offer programs some flexibility to admit candidates who don’t meet the entrance programs, as long as programs provide remedial supports and receive approval from the department.
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 high in one area of a licensure test, but low in another, 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,” Petchauer 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, said Sharif El‑Mekki, the co-founder of The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, a teacher-diversity initiative in Philadelphia.
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. “It’s not just saying, ‘here’s the bar,’ it’s high expectations and high support,” El-Mekki said.
Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/Programs/Education. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the October 04, 2017 edition of Education Week as Are Selectivity and Diversity Competing Goals for Teaching?