Recruitment & Retention

What Can States Do to Patch the ‘Leaky Pipeline’ for Teachers of Color?

By Madeline Will — August 08, 2023 6 min read
Elementary school teacher greeting his students at the door.
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There’s a “profoundly leaky pipeline” of teachers of color, a new report says—but often, states don’t explicitly prioritize diversity when setting recruitment and retention policies.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and policy group that advocates for more-rigorous teacher preparation, released a report Aug. 8 analyzing state teacher-diversity policies across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It found that only seven states have set public goals for increasing the diversity of their teacher workforce—something that can increase urgency for the work—and many states have not flagged diversity as a desired outcome for some of their recruitment and retention policies.

That’s unfortunate, said NCTQ President Heather Peske, because states can “illuminate leaky points in the pipeline” and patch those holes to ensure that more people of color consider teaching to be a sustainable and appealing career, and then stay.

Only 20 percent of the teaching workforce are teachers of color, despite the fact that more than half of students are people of color. Research has shown that having teachers of color has academic and social-emotional benefits for all students, but particularly for students of color.

Peske said there’s more room for policymakers to leverage state-funded programs to bring in and retain more teachers of color. Having publicly stated benchmarks on diversity is important and encourages states to track and monitor teacher demographic data, she said. Publicly reporting that data, as well as the progress made, provides accountability, too.

“It just gives them a more clear beacon for what explicitly they’re setting out to do,” Peske said.

The NCTQ report did not account for any district- or community-level programs to recruit and retain teachers of color.

How states are trying to prepare a more diverse workforce

Past research has found that people of color are more likely to pursue teaching through alternative pathways. But most states aren’t explicitly using these strategies to diversify their workforce.

  • Nearly all states have established or funded programs that target high school students who are interested in becoming teachers, but only 21 states have done so with the explicit goal of increasing teacher diversity.
    • For example, Washington state has a high school career academy program designed for bilingual high school students. And Colorado has a pipeline program for qualified high school students to take two years of tuition-free educator-preparation programs after graduating. That program’s goal is to increase the percentage of students from low-income or traditionally underserved backgrounds in those teacher-preparation programs.
  • Half of states have established grow-your-own programs, which are meant to attract community members or paraprofessionals to become teachers by having them work toward their teaching license—and sometimes a bachelor’s degree—while earning a wage or stipend. Twenty of those states have explicit goals of teacher diversity.
  • Six states fund post-baccalaureate residencies, which are used to attract prospective teachers who have bachelor’s degrees. The residents teach full-time in a school alongside a mentor teacher and are sometimes paid a stipend. Three of those states—Louisiana, Mississippi, and New York—have explicit goals of teacher diversity.
  • Twenty-one states have been approved by the U.S. Department of Labor to offer registered teacher- apprenticeship programs, which include many of the components of residencies and grow-your-own programs. The core idea is that prospective teachers earn a paycheck while they work toward a teaching degree, and registering the program as an apprenticeship with the government opens up a new stream of federal funding.

See also

Regan Sylvester, a Buena Vista University student from Webb, Iowa, student teaches in a summer school classroom of soon-to-be first-grade students on June 23, 2021, at the Storm Lake Middle School, in Storm Lake, Iowa. At left is student Emma Vazquez and at right is Harmony Rodriguez. The Storm Lake Community School District and Buena Vista University collaborated to have the Storm Lake university's education students student teach during a summer school program that was opened to all students to help them make up for educational time lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The student teaching opportunity was also opened up to Storm Lake school alumni who are studying education at other colleges.
Regan Sylvester, a Buena Vista University student from Webb, Iowa, teaches in a summer school classroom of rising 1st graders on June 23, 2021, at the Storm Lake Middle School in Storm Lake, Iowa. Iowa is among the states designing apprenticeship programs to ease college students' and paraprofessionals' route to a teaching license.
Tim Hynds/Sioux City Journal via AP

  • Minority-serving institutions, including historically Black colleges and universities, produce a significant share of the teachers of color in the country, but they also receive disproportionately lower rates of funding from states compared to other public colleges and universities. While the federal government has recently invested in teacher-preparation programs at HBCUs and MSIs, only four states—Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia—have invested state dollars into these programs.
    • To support teachers of color who want to buy a home, Connecticut offers down payment assistance and an interest rate reduction for any teacher who graduated from an MSI.

How states are using financial incentives to attract teachers of color

The NCTQ found that it’s not very common for states to use financial incentives, like scholarships or loan forgiveness, to attract teachers of color.

Yet aspiring teachers of color are more likely than white teachers to carry significant student loan debt, past research has found. And in a 2022 RAND Corp. study, teachers of color overwhelmingly said financial incentives like loan forgiveness and scholarships would boost enrollment in teacher preparation.

See also

Image of a teacher in front of a high school classroom.
Drazen Zigic/iStock/Getty

Thirty-four states fund scholarships for people training to be teachers, but only 17 of those do so with the explicit goal of increasing teacher diversity.

  • West Virginia spent more than $628,000 in fiscal year 2023 to provide an annual $10,000 scholarship for recent high school graduates who are from low-income backgrounds, have disabilities, or are a person of color. Recipients commit to teaching in a shortage area (math, science, elementary grades, or special education) for five years.

Twenty-seven states offer loan forgiveness for teachers, but only nine of those states prioritize diversity.

  • Wisconsin provides forgivable loans of up to $30,000 to college students of color who agree to teach in a school that is 40 percent or more students of color. Candidates must also teach in a shortage area. Their loans will be forgiven at a rate of 25 percent per school year.

How states are keeping teachers of color in the classroom

Teachers of color are more likely to leave the classroom than their white peers, making retention a key part of the pipeline.

  • While 36 states have initiatives to support teacher retention in general, only 14 have an explicit focus on retaining teachers of color. Those that do focus on mentorship and affinity groups, which allow teachers to connect with peers who have a common aspect of their identity, such as race.

See also

Photograph of group of teachers meeting.
Getty/E+/SDI Productions

  • Just nine states and the District of Columbia publish data on teacher retention that’s disaggregated by race.
    • Of those states, only Delaware publicly breaks down the data to the school level, which the report notes gives important insight into teachers’ experiences. Research shows that a strong and inclusive school climate and leadership are especially important in getting teachers of color to stay.
    • Arkansas requires school districts to set goals around recruiting and retaining teachers and school leaders of color and then submit reports to the state detailing their progress.

Public data is important, the report says

The seven states that have publicly stated their goals to diversify their teacher workforce are: Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

For example, the Connecticut State Board of Education announced in 2017 that its short-term goal was to increase the percentage of teachers of color in the state to 10 percent of the workforce, which translated to about 1,000 teachers. (About half of the state’s student population is students of color.)

By 2021, the state had hired more than 1,900 teachers of color, the NCTQ report said.

States can and should collect data for other key indicators, the NCTQ researchers said. For example, only 11 states publish licensure test pass rates that are disaggregated by race or ethnicity. And just eight states publish teacher demographics by the grade spans and subject areas they are certified to teach.

More available data will show policymakers where and how they need to provide support, NCTQ’s Peske said.

“We know that we’re losing prospective candidates of color at every step in the pipeline,” she said. “It’s so important that states invest in their data systems so they know where they’re doing a good job and [where are] the leaky points in the pipeline” that they can shore up.

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