Teaching Profession

‘Bold, Audacious Goal': Coalition Pushes to Add More Than 1 Million Educators of Color

By Denisa R. Superville — December 21, 2021 6 min read
African American teacher and her student using touchpad and wearing protective face masks due to coronavirus pandemic.
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A coalition of education groups is pushing forward with efforts to increase the number of educators of color working in the nation’s public schools, with the goal of adding 1 million teachers and 30,000 leaders of color to the workforce by 2030.

“It is a very bold, audacious goal, and we’re all excited about being associated with [it],” said Javaid E. Siddiqi, the president and CEO of the North Carolina-based Hunt Institute, the organization leading the effort.

The “One Million Teachers of Color” campaign, launched in February, got a financial boost last month from The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as part of a $9 million round of funding by the philanthropy to groups working on educator diversity initiatives and supporting educators and communities of color.

In addition to the Hunt Institute and the teacher-effectiveness group TNTP, the coalition includes the Center for Black Educator Development, The Education Trust, Latinos for Education, Men of Color in Educational Leadership, Teach Plus, and New Leaders.

The coalition’s effort comes as the growth in the number of students of color outpaces the percentage of teachers and leaders of color in public schools—while 54 percent of students are nonwhite, 80 percent of teachers and 78 percent of principals are white. Research shows the benefits of educators of color on all students, but also, in particular, on students and teachers of color of the same race.

“It improves their lives beyond just high school—this is about improving their longer-term outcomes,” said Tequilla Brownie, the executive vice president of strategy, policy, and community coalitions at TNTP, one of the anchor organizations on the campaign. “It’s not a nice to have. The data is pretty unassailable ... that having access to more diverse teachers means students will have better outcomes, both short term and long term.”

But getting there requires a dramatic shift in how the federal government, states, and districts approach the issue, Brownie said.

While the percentage of school leaders and teachers of color have increased in the last decade and a half, it has not kept up with the rising enrollment of students of color.

“Unfortunately, right now, our policies have led us to a place where we have mostly white teachers and more diverse students,” said Brownie, who will become TNTP’s executive director next month.

A multifaceted playbook to boost educator diversity

The strategies target the federal and state governments, as well as higher education and school districts.

The campaign’s success will hinge a lot on what will happen in statehouses and governor’s mansions over the next few years. With 36 upcoming gubernatorial elections, the Hunt Institute, for instance, is preparing for briefings and meetings with gubernatorial candidates on both sides of the aisle on the importance of a diverse educator workforce—especially amid a teacher shortage.

The goal is to get the data to the candidates and create individualized playbooks to address the issue on the state and district levels—as well as the implications—in each of those states, Siddiqi said. The coalition partners are hoping that the governors will commit to producing a share of the one million teachers and 30,000 leaders of color over the next decade.

Additionally, he said, the efforts of North Carolina’s DRIVE Taskforce can serve as a blueprint for how governors can take the lead in promoting education workforce diversity.

Working with the Hunt Institute, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, convened the task force two years ago of stakeholders, including parents, educators, university representatives and government officials, to identify ways to diversify the state’s education workforce. (DRIVE stands for Developing a Representative and Inclusive Vision for Education).

“So, he is on message,” said Siddiqi. “Imagine if every governor ... every time they’re talking about education, they were talking about this.”

The power of a governor and legislature to significantly shape who is teaching in the classrooms or sitting in principals’ offices goes beyond raising awareness.

Tennessee, for example, adopted a new policy this year requiring districts to create educator diversity goals and update the state education department annually about the progress they’re making against those benchmarks.

State regulatory agencies also can review and revise certification and licensure requirements that often keep people of color from entering education. State legislatures also can adopt policies, such as student loan forgiveness programs, that incentivize teachers to stay in the profession and help districts diversify their pipelines.

TNTP, which has long championed the creation of an effective teaching workforce, sees diversity as going hand in hand with that goal, Brownie said.

“Effectiveness means diverse and effective; so they are not two separate priorities. An effective workforce is a diverse workforce,” she said.

An opportunity amid teacher shortages

Jean Desravines, the executive director of New Leaders, a New York City-based school leadership preparation program, argues that states and districts can see teacher shortages as an opportunity to diversify the workforce.

“The goal here is not to say that we want to replace existing white leaders,” said Desravines, whose group is the only one in the coalition that focuses exclusively on school leadership. “Rather, it is: We have attrition through retirement and people transitioning out, we have to be more intentional about building a more diverse pipeline.”

The coalition also wrote to the Biden administration earlier this year to urge that educator diversity be a priority in the administration.

“If it’s a stated priority in a federal administration, we can expect to see funding dollars steered toward incentives and programs like removing financial barriers, for example, which is cited as one of the causes and contributors to our inability to diversify the workforce,” Brownie said. “We can also think about incentives to states as they set policies and priorities around trying to diversify the workforce.”

The campaign also is providing technical assistance to states and districts to make progress on their stated diversity goals, Brownie said.

Organizations like TNTP offer alternative certification programs that get more people of color into the pipeline. And “grow-your-own” programs aimed at students and para-professionals and school support staff—who tend to come from more diverse backgrounds than teachers—can also help districts increase the numbers of people of color in their schools. Recruiting from the broader community is also an economic investment in the communities in which students live, she said.

But to do all of that, districts need a targeted, comprehensive HR policy that not only articulates a diverse workforce as a priority, but also details the steps necessary to accomplish those goals, she said. And those efforts have to include equal emphasis on creating a culture that encourages and supports the retention of teachers of color, who have a higher turnover rate than their white peers.

“It doesn’t happen by accident,” Brownie said, “so, paying attention to where you are recruiting from, looking at which districts and how districts are partnering with higher ed [institutions]... It’s not just symbolic. It helps them identify where they are getting more diverse, effective candidates from and they can therefore be more intentional about partnering with those programs.”

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