A Leaky Pipeline Loses Teachers of Color

Mar 8, 2021 12:00:00 AM

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Despite the benefits of a diverse teaching force, prospective teachers of color fall out of our leaky preparation pipeline at every stage: preparation, hiring, induction and retention. Here’s what our pipeline should look like:

The educator pipeline from preparation to retention

But for prospective teachers of color, each section of that pipeline for teachers is either leaking or badly broken. Here’s why: ineffective preparation, bias in hiring, and lack of both early-career mentoring and long-term support pull teachers of color out of the profession at every stage.

The broken teacher diversity pipeline from preparation to retention

Teachers of color aren’t being prepared effectively

Teacher preparation is a two step process: formal education and statewide licensing. 

Teacher preparation starts with one of the 27,000 programs in the U.S. that train teachers in the principles of learning and education. 

The traditional model of preparation involves some form of higher education for aspiring teachers, which can include formal coursework, student teaching and other opportunities to gain hands on experience

But schools of education in the U.S. often do not prepare teachers to teach well.

The content of these programs hasn’t clearly translated to better student outcomes. Most of them exclude key components of effective student teaching experiences. Shrinking public budgets for these programs have also caused their tuitions to balloon.

To fill the gap, alternative routes to teaching have proliferated. These programs can range from residencies to short term internships. Generally, they are more effective than traditional programs in certain areas like teaching strategies for classroom management. 

But [pullquote]teachers of color face additional obstacles no matter which path they choose.[/pullquote]

Those who opt to pursue the traditional path often bear a heavier financial burden. 91% of Black students and 82% of Latinx students who trained to teach borrowed federal student loans for their undergraduate education, compared with 76% of white students.

Unsurprisingly, then, teachers of color are more likely to have come to the profession via alternative pathways. But many of these programs limit student teaching experiences, which is another key part of preparation.

As a result, many aspiring teachers of color face a difficult choice: entering the profession with less practice, or entering the profession with more debt. 

The second step of preparation—statewide licensing—comes at the end of preparation programs. It can be another barrier to entry for teachers of color.

As part of their efforts to improve teacher quality, many states have introduced more difficult teacher licensing exams. But minority candidates have been doing especially poorly on these new exams.

It’s unclear if these poor results are linked to racial bias in the exams or to the poor quality of teacher preparation for aspiring teachers of color. 

Whatever the cause, the result adds to the problems for efforts to advance teacher diversity.

Outright discrimination in the hiring process

After licensing exams, aspiring teachers need to get hired, which can be another hurdle, particularly for Black teachers. 

Research has found that aspiring Black teachers are significantly less likely than their white counterparts to receive a job offer. And when they do get job offers, they are significantly more likely to be placed in schools characterized as “struggling,” which tend to have fewer resources and even higher teacher turnover.

[pullquote]Due to discrimination in the hiring process, many Black teachers start off their careers at a disadvantage even before they walk into a classroom.[/pullquote]

Teachers of color receive less early-career support

Teacher “induction” offers professional development for first-time teachers to learn from experienced teachers. Induction can include mentorship from veteran teachers, seminars, and informal feedback sessions.

Research shows that high-quality, multi-year induction programs increase teacher retention and teacher effectiveness. States have varying requirements and options for induction of new teachers. 

But, teachers of color may have a harder time with induction into their new jobs. 

Due to turnover, there are fewer veteran teachers of color to be mentors for first-time teachers of color. Unsurprisingly, teachers of color feel that they don’t have the necessary supports needed for them to grow. The schools in which they tend to teach often have fewer resources and experience outright closures rather than efforts at improvement.

The going often stays rough for those teachers of color who make it through the challenging first few years in the teaching profession. 

School systems struggle to retain educators of color 

Educators of color are caught in a “revolving door” that leads many to leave their school or leave the profession entirely. 10.6% of teachers of color change schools, and they are more likely to report these moves as “involuntary,” compared to 7.5% of white teachers. 8.3% of teachers of color leave the profession compared to 7.5% of white teachers

[pullquote]Working conditions, poor salaries, and involuntary displacement contribute to the higher rate of departure for teachers of color.[/pullquote]

They also cite emotional and psychological cost as reasons for leaving ranging from antagonistic work culture that leaves them feeling unwelcome and underrecognized to feeling deprived of agency and autonomy in their schools because of an inability to tailor their teaching to the population of students they serve.

Aspiring educators of color run up against systemic hurdles when they prepare to be teachers, when they become teachers, when they try to get hired as teachers, when they’re first-time teachers and when they try staying in the profession. 

End to end, the pipeline for educators of color is broken. And we need to fix it.

Teachers of color help all students achieve. And they are essential to our fight for a more equitable education system. For ideas on how to fix it, visit EdTrust, National Council on Teacher Quality and Katy Reckdahl's article in the Atlantic.

Ed Post Staff

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