By Lauren Dunphy-Kinne, Policy Fellow
The National Education Association (NEA) hosted a panel discussion to examine the influence that advocacy efforts can have on policies related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and how they play out for students and teachers in the classroom. The panelists included:
- Murshed Zaheed (moderator), Founder, Pacifica Strategies
- Ronnie Lau, Federal Lobbyist, National Education Association
- Dr. Heather Shotton, Vice President of Diversity Affairs, Fort Lewis College
- Amanda Meyer, Director of Improvement, CORE Districts and Independent Contractor
- Desiree Carver-Thomas, Researcher and Policy Analyst, Learning Policy Institute
Zaheed opened with a pertinent quote from Representative Ayanna Pressley: “Those closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” Zaheed urged DEI advocates to make sure those in leadership roles hear their voices. Below is a summary of key points made during the discussion, followed by an analysis of where D.C. is when it comes to DEI advocacy and action.
Equity in education continues to be critically important, especially considering the rising diversity among student populations nationwide. Carver-Thomas pointed out that teachers are the number one in-school factor related to student improvement; equitable distribution of teachers should be a priority. This is an equity issue because teacher shortages primarily impact low income students. Carver-Thomas’ research shows that when students are given access to a diverse set of teachers, all students have positive results, especially those who identify with the racial or ethnic background of their teacher. These positive impacts include increased graduation rates, higher attendance rates, increased engagement, and feeling academically challenged, just to name a few. Further, Carver-Thomas explained, having a diverse set of role models in childhood can address biases in adulthood.
Panelists offered explanations as to why we don’t see more diversity in teacher preparation programs or the educator workforce. The data, Carver-Thomas suggested, point to teacher preparation programs: people of color are more likely to find more affordable ways to come into the teaching profession, which often do not include key teacher preparatory coursework or student teaching experience. While it offers a more affordable route, it creates a vicious cycle where teachers of color feel underprepared and ultimately quit after a few years, undermining the goals of DEI advocates. Lau added that the teacher shortage crisis is a multifaceted issue that differs vastly across states, but that both the rising cost of college and student debt have a “severe impact” on the educator crisis. They act as barriers of entry to the teaching profession – people don’t want to take on loans for a job that won’t pay them enough to get out of debt. Many teachers with debt ultimately quit for higher paying jobs. Historically, people of color carry more debt than those who are white. Educator diversity is a paramount concern when providing equity in education; “there are not enough black and brown educators in the classroom right now; debt is a huge reason why.”
Another important piece of increasing diversity of teachers, Shotton added, is promoting equity in access to higher education for Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC). Furthermore, Shotton emphasized the importance of preparing educators to engage with an increasingly diverse student body through the use of culturally inclusive pedagogy and curriculum. Meyer added that equitable grading policies should be considered by schools as a way to minimize bias and reflect student progress more accurately.
Meyer provided input from a key perspective: teachers. After all, policy is nothing without its implementers. Meyer expressed that teachers have the desire to create change within education, yet many feel that they do not possess the knowledge or tools to do so. Her work aims to get educators involved in the process of education policy making, which she sees as an imperative link between policy and practice in both directions. Many times, well-intended policies are not fully reflective of what’s really going on in classrooms – this link allows teachers to provide input on existing problems and realistic solutions.
How does this relate to D.C.?
After attending this informative webinar, I wanted to know more about educator diversity in D.C. and what steps D.C. is taking to recruit and retain BIPOC teachers.
Where is D.C. now?
Data collected by OSSE in their D.C. Educator Workforce Report from May 2022 shows discrepancies between the number of students enrolled in DC who are Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx, and teachers in those racial/ethnic groups. Figure A.2 below illustrates this point. While students in the District do benefit from having a diverse group of teachers, and many students do have access to teachers who match their racial and ethnic backgrounds, Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx teachers are underrepresented when compared with the demographics of the student body in D.C. Conversely, white and Asian teachers are overrepresented when compared to the demographics of the student population.
Appendix B (see below) also shows the breakdown of students, teachers, and school leaders by race and ethnicity. While the percentage of Black school leaders (63%) more closely reflects the percentage of Black students (63%), the percentage of Hispanic leaders (9%) is still far from the percentage of Hispanic students (19%), and white school leaders (18%) are overly represented compared to the white student population (12%).
Through OSSE, educator preparation providers (EPPs) prepare candidates to earn an educator credential in DC. As shown below in Figure C.6, the demographics of those who complete the program do not mirror the public school student population in DC; DC disproportionately prepares more White/Caucasian and Asian educators than Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx educators, compared to the student populations.
DC Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools are home to many excellent educators from diverse backgrounds who benefit all students. However, there is still work to be done in ensuring DC schools recruit and retain more educators of color, reflective of our student populations.
In her research, Carver-Thomas explains that “Grow Your Own” programs can help to recruit and retain teachers of color. In the spring of 2022, OSSE launched the Educator Preparation “Grow Your Own” Program Grant in order to strengthen the teacher and paraeducator pipeline. American University School of Education will prepare high school students and DC public school graduates to become teachers, while Relay Graduate School of Education will serve current D.C. paraprofessionals with a baccalaureate or master’s degree in teaching. Both routes provide grantees with licenses to teach in D.C. and cover the program costs.
The extent to which DC’s Grow Your Own program will assist in recruiting and retaining BIPOC teachers is yet to be known, but is a promising leap in the right direction. Additional steps that could be taken to promote more teachers of color in D.C. include:
- Expand student loan forgiveness to retain teachers of color
- Increase pay for teachers
- Training staff to mitigate racial bias in hiring practices
- Include BIPOC staff as active participants in the hiring process
- Foster positive and inclusive collegial relationships & school environments
Lauren Dunphy-Kinne is a Policy Fellow for the D.C. State Board of Education