College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Professor: Why I Stopped Recruiting Minority Teaching Students

By Marilyn Rhames — December 18, 2013 3 min read
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By an Anonymous Guest Blogger

The following post is by an anonymous guest blogger. A long-time reader and university professor, the author sent me this post to explain why so many minority teaching candidates are recruited to study education but never actually become certified teachers.

As one of the few ethnic minority professors in my university’s education department, I am frequently, actually always, asked to take on a leading role in attempting to increase minority teacher candidate recruitment at the university.

Not coincidentally, this initiative becomes a priority exactly at the time when a national accreditation review is due. Among our most pressing tasks is writing up strategic plans for increasing our minority enrollment so that it is, at least, on par with those of the other departments--in particular the math and science departments.

This year, for the first time, I declined the offer to join the committee. You see, I know that the effort is not just a “dog and pony show” for the benefit of the accreditation reviewers, but it’s actually something far worse. We may be setting ethnic minority students up to fail.

More often than at any time in my career, I am seeing minority students, who may have succeeded within math and science-focused careers, struggle with passing the qualifying teacher certification exams given toward the latter half of their college coursework. Because these students are often raised in poverty and have fewer experiences with academic language used in their homes, linguistically dependent courses, majors, and tests become more of a challenge for them.

As state teacher certification entities face pressure to increase the rigor associated with teacher education program entry and exit, they also face the consequence of diminishing their ethnic minority teacher workforce due in large part to ethnic minorities’ historically lower performance records on standardized tests.

These new, more rigorous tests have already been implemented in my state. I find that the writing exams are particularly challenging for our students, requiring a level of skill that far surpasses what was required just a few years ago. Unfortunately, though great efforts go into the recruitment and retention of ethnic minority students, little effort is made to ensure their successful completion of these teacher certification programs.

While my committee has suggested increasing the amount of focused support aimed at helping ethnic minority students to pass the certification exams, these suggestions have been quickly dismissed as “exclusionary,” since the same support could not be offered to all under our current budget.

So, instead, we end up with too many students like Miguel.

After taking nine semesters of coursework, Miguel is not allowed to conduct his student teaching semester because he can’t pass the teacher certification writing tests. Nevermind that during his field experiences he has been applauded during his demonstration lessons for his ability to teach well, his rapport-building skills, and his excellent work ethic. He hasn’t passed the rigorous timed writing test that was recently instituted for the certification of elementary school teacher candidates (our university’s overall pass rate in all of these tests has dropped considerably, from the high 90s to the high 50s).

While I believe that it is important that we hire highly qualified candidates, I’m not sure that these standardized tests are the way to measure who will and who will not make a good teacher. Miguel is in debt, discouraged, and at a high risk of dropping out of college with very little to show for it. Unfortunately, this late in the game, his full slate of education courses would not transfer easily into other programs.

The local school district consists of an ethnic minority student population of more than 80 percent. Our ethnic minority teacher candidate population is less than 5 percent.

While I know that children would benefit greatly from having a more diverse teacher population, I have a very hard time actually putting ethnic minority teacher candidates through the risk of a demanding college program with very little to show for it in the end. So, until there are safety nets built in, to help ethnic minority teacher candidates successfully complete the teacher education programs in which they enroll, I won’t be doing any recruiting.

I’d be far happier encouraging ethnic minority candidates to enroll in math and science-focused majors (yes, our diverse-enrollment competitors), where they have a better chance at succeeding.

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