Racial segregation remains a major issue for American students more than 65 years after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education. Racial segregation is especially prevalent in New York City, where I have worked in education research and policy for the past two decades. What we don’t always read about, though, is the racial segregation in the country’s teacher corps.
Districts can create “Grow Your Own” initiatives that recruit teachers from among paraprofessionals and others working in schools, providing a career ladder from those already dedicated to the district and the community. Districts can also train their current high school students as future teachers, providing college and career pathways for students, while building a future diverse teacher workforce for the community. Districts can also look to high-quality partnerships, including the Center for Black Educator Development in Philadelphia and Pathways2Teaching in Denver.
States can play a role, too, by creating programs to help potential teachers meet licensure requirements and by providing financial support for those with student debt. Critically, states can form partnerships with colleges and universities, particularly minority-serving institutions, to build a direct pipeline of new teachers. This is already happening in places like San Bernardino, California, and other parts of the country.
Retaining Teachers of Color
Recruitment is only part of the solution. Districts and states must work to retain teachers of color—creating a workplace that values, listens, and supports teachers of color who often face additional stressors from racial bias and higher performance expectations (particularly as it relates to their work with students of color).
All teachers thrive when districts and states provide opportunities to network, to mentor and be mentored, and to participate in career training. Research has shown that workplace supports like these also correlate with the retention of teachers of color, particularly in schools with a less diverse teaching staff.
If states and districts do not seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity and use federal funds to diversify their teacher workforce, the student-teacher racial imbalance will only deepen to the detriment of student growth and learning. Schools across the country have billions of dollars that can be used for urgent and long-standing issues. A lack of teacher diversity is one of those urgent and long-standing issues.
Now is the time to build a high-quality teacher corps that reflects the tapestry of America. Let’s not let this opportunity slip away.
Thomas Gold is a senior associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners and co-author of a new policy paper, "