We know that you are a champion for creating a more diverse teacher workforce, and that President Biden prioritizes teacher diversity in his education agenda. We urge you not to wait on prioritizing this issue, even as you work with states to welcome back students and recover from the educational challenges of the pandemic. Particularly as states and districts are flooded with hundreds of billions of dollars in new funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), your department can make huge strides by starting now to encourage teacher diversity, and building this policy priority into all of your work to facilitate the positive transformation of the classroom that students of color deserve.
Though our public schools serve mostly students of color, nearly 80% of their teachers are white. Meanwhile, research accumulates each year showing the undeniable benefits that teachers of color bring to the classroom — especially for Black students.
We, the undersigned, ask that you pursue a number of concurrent initiatives, listed below. The reasons for the lack of highly qualified Black and other educators of color are complex, historical and stubborn. Our response must be equally comprehensive and sustained.
Start early. As you have said, we have the diversity already in our classrooms, but we must show this next generation that becoming an educator is a desirable career option.
- Encourage states and local districts to offer Career and Technical Education programs to high school students focused on education. This includes not only teaching but also roles in administration, counseling and school-based social work. There’s no better time to inspire our young people to join the profession than when they are surrounded by educator role models.
- Encourage local districts to embrace and expand dual enrollment programs so high school students can get a head start on their teaching degree. Reform Pell grant rules so these same students can access tuition subsidies that do not impact their eligibility during college.
- Encourage undergraduate programs to make it easier to double-major (or minor) in education while pursuing other studies. We must encourage a path where a teacher in training develops strong content knowledge while simultaneously adopting the mindsets of culturally responsive practices and the pedagogical skills to teach. Let’s make sure interested students can easily get a foot in the door, rather than be forced to return to college at great expense of time and money if they decide later to pursue teaching.
- Encourage colleges and universities to create seamless transitions for students who start in community college. Too often, prospective educators, including many who work in school buildings in support roles, transfer to a 4-year institution only to find their credits won’t count toward an education degree.
- Make teacher-training programs more affordable. Whether through special scholarships, more generous loan forgiveness, expanding financial resources or modifying eligibility requirements for the federal TEACH grant, the aim should be to make the path to teaching more financially attractive to Black and Brown students and students from other marginalized communities. Key to this is front-loading financial assistance, so the benefits come early to a student preparing to become a teacher.
Build on what works. There are many promising practices out there, and the arrival of ARPA money provides an opportunity for districts and states to start scaling the best of them.
Communities of color have long had their own rich pedagogical traditions. You can use your platform to lift up these efforts and ensure the voices of the community are centered in the policy conversation. For instance, grow-your-own programs such as the Freedom Schools Literacy Academy, run by the Center for Black Educator Development, are modeled after the strong student teaching, mentoring and coaching practices developed by accomplished teachers and in community-based programming like the Children’s Defense Fund and the Philadelphia Freedom Schools. These traditions are not new, but they are not widely spread. Now is the time to change that.
- Create a challenge grant to generate innovative ideas, strategies and collaboratives around the training, recruitment and retention of teachers of color, with funding for replication of the most promising.
- Provide clear guidance for states and districts on what policies and practices are needed to ensure they are certifying, recruiting, hiring and supporting teachers with diversity and equity in mind.
- Ensure that Title II and other federal support of teacher professional development are honoring and including the best practices of supporting teachers of color both at the beginning and throughout their careers—including early exposure and clinical experiences for high school and college youth.
- Expand Title II to be far more inclusive of early teacher pipeline participants (teacher pre-apprentices and apprentices).
- Interrogate policies that present an unnecessary burden to a person seeking certification, particularly those practices that have a disproportionate impact on Black teachers.
- Invest in the expansion of the Teacher Residency or Alternative Certification pathways to create a pipeline for those who have established careers outside of the classroom, but who desire training to be a teacher.
Use data to hold us accountable. You have spoken of the importance of using data and transparency to hold ourselves accountable to our aspirations for more equitable education. One of the most important roles of the Department of Education is to collect, share and analyze the information about who is attending and who is teaching in America’s classrooms.
- Challenge schools of education to reform their recruitment and academic practices to ensure more close alignment of their program offerings and supports with the hiring needs of school districts (e.g., more middle and secondary trained teachers). We need teacher colleges to engage in comprehensive reform of their recruitment and academic practices to diversify what TNTP recently called the “broken pipeline” of prospective educators of color.
- Use data to hold states and districts accountable for showing that they are increasing both the number of Black and Brown educators of color in their hiring and the number who stay in the profession.
Thank you for your service on behalf of children, families and educators, and thank you for your commitment to educator diversity. We urge you to start now to tackle the issue of teacher diversity across the country, and know that all of us will be by your side as you engage in this challenging but critical work.
100K in 100
The Aspen Education & Society Program
Association of American Educators Foundation
Black Male Educator Alliance of Michigan
Black Men Teach Twin Cities
Black on Black Education
Black Teacher Collaborative
The Black Wall St. Times
Brooklyn Lab Charter School
Brothers Liberating Our Communities (BLOC)
The Building Our Network of Diversity (BOND) Project
Center for American Progress
Center for Black Educator Development
Center for Educational Opportunity at Albany State University
Center for Future Educators at the College of New Jersey
Diverse Charter Schools Coalition
Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC)
The Education Trust
Educators for Excellence
Education Reform Now
Equal Opportunity Schools
Great School Choices
IDEA Public Schools
Latinos for Education
National Association of Charter School Authorizers
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Center for Teacher Residencies
National Council on Teacher Quality
The National Fellowship for Black and Latino Male Educators (NFBLME)
The National Network of State Teachers of the Year
National Parents Union
New Teacher Center
Real Men Teach
Relay Graduate School of Education
Stand for Children
State of Black Education Oakland (SoBEO)
Teach For America
Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance
The Calculus Project
We Will All Rise
2,131 have signed so far. Here are the most recent signatures.
Harold R. Hicks