How can teacher-preparation programs better prepare mostly white teacher candidates to work with diverse groups of students? Take a page out of minority-serving institutions’ playbook, a new report recommends.
Minority-serving institutions, or MSIs—a term that encompasses historically black colleges and universities and other schools that serve predominately nonwhite populations—make up just 13 percent of all the teacher-preparation programs in the United States. But they prepare a disproportionate percentage of nonwhite teachers, past research has found.
Only 20 percent of public school teachers are nonwhite, compared with more than 50 percent of public school students. Increasing teacher diversity has been a growing policy priority—but past analyses have found that achieving parity between the teaching workforce and the student population is a long way off. A new report from the Bellwether Education Partners says that in the meantime, it is teacher-preparation programs’ responsibility to better prepare all teachers, but especially white teachers, to serve students and communities of color more effectively.
“Even optimistic projections suggest that the educator workforce will be predominately white for the foreseeable future,” said Max Marchitello, a senior analyst with Bellwether Education Partners and an author of the report. While it’s important to continue efforts to increase the diversity in the workforce, he said, “these efforts [to better prepare teachers to work with diverse students] should run in tandem and parallel.”
Marchitello and his co-author Justin Trinidad conducted an extensive literature review and interviewed nearly 20 experts and practitioners from across the country, with a focus on those who work at MSIs. Those institutions intentionally design their schools of education to serve communities of color—and other teacher-prep programs can learn from their experience and expertise, the researchers said.
The researchers came up with three objectives for schools of education to focus on, based off of the work happening in MSIs:
1. Teacher-prep programs should incorporate the expertise, experiences, and perspectives of communities of color throughout the curricula and coursework. Right now, teachers often graduate feeling ill-prepared to teach students of color, the researchers wrote. However, MSIs embed the perspectives of people of color, along with societal inequities and injustices, throughout their curriculum and coursework.
For example, Howard University’s school of education incorporates critical race theory, which is a framework that looks at relationships between power structures and race, gender, and other diversity, throughout its program. Candidates focus on urban education and have discussions of poverty, racism, sexism, and cultural responsiveness.
Also, teacher-prep programs often don’t do enough to help candidates examine their own racial identities and biases, the researchers say. There is a body of research showing that teachers have lower expectations for their nonwhite students, and black students are disproportionately more likely to receive exclusionary discipline.
2. Programs should design clinical experiences so candidates engage with diverse students, contexts, and educators. Studies have found that white teachers do not always receive proper training to work with diverse populations, the report says. The researchers recommend that student-teaching experiences should be accompanied by guided reflection and inquiry, so the experiences do not reinforce any stereotypes and biases.
In addition to working with diverse students, teacher candidates should have an opportunity to work with and learn from diverse mentor educators, Marchitello said. “It’s important to learn and to observe different people with different practices, and too often, that’s not how it goes,” he said.
Also, researchers recommend that teacher-prep programs build strong, mutually beneficial relationships with their districts and communities. Historic MSIs have a mission to serve their communities—in fact, that’s often why they came into being, Marchitello said. While other institutions can’t mimic those relationships, he said the “responsiveness to community needs and desire to meet those needs” that MSIs have can be adapted into any program.
3. Programs should increase diversity within their own faculty ranks and in the teacher candidates themselves. The vast majority of higher education faculty are white—and that’s a problem for educating teacher candidates, experts say. There is research that shows when white teacher candidates are no longer the majority in their class, their racial attitudes might shift. If programs can’t hire additional faculty members, the report says, they can at least provide professors with professional development on looking at their own implicit biases.
See also: How I Talk to My White Preservice Teachers About Diversity (Opinion)
The researchers stressed that the historic role of minority-serving institutions cannot be replicated, but teacher-prep programs can still adapt some of these approaches to their own contexts.
Just as teacher candidates are encouraged to examine their own internal biases, Marchitello said “institutions should be open to a similar sort of examination of how their course offerings, their curricula, their programs, et cetera, may have similar issues that are worth working on.”
Meanwhile, teacher educator Cassandra Herring founded an initiative in 2017 called the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (or BranchED) to strengthen those institutions’ schools of education. Enrollment in many teacher-prep programs has declined in recent years, and the about 250 MSIs with schools of education are not immune.
BranchED aims to empower minority-serving institutions through coaching, break down silos by connecting schools to each other, and elevate the voices of the programs.
"[S]chools of education at minority-serving institutions understand that the field of educator preparation is changing, and they are ready to lend their expertise,” Herring wrote in an opinion piece for Education Week. “Changing demographics in America’s classrooms necessitate a re-examination of teacher-preparation practices, which must incorporate new approaches that recognize the role of culture and identity in student learning.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.