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Civil Rights Data, Diversity Summit Bring Urgency to Diversifying Teacher Workforce

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

As practitioners in the field, we know that great things are happening every day in teacher preparation and school leadership. We are also keenly aware of some of the statistics revealed in the recent report of data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The results are disconcerting, and as Secretary John King articulated, reveal the necessity for continued attention to this issue.

The first look from the civil rights data collection revealed that students of color now comprise half of the nation’s student population, with that number projected to steadily increase in the coming years. To a large degree these same students are underperforming, leading the way in the most troubling statistics. Also of particular interest within the report is the preponderance of inexperienced teachers assigned to work in schools with large Black and Latino populations. While this information focuses appropriately on equity issues that impact students directly, the broader conversation begs the question: What can be done to solve these inequities?

The causes of the inequities vary, but the school-based factors include issues of educators’ implicit bias, cultural competency, deficit thinking, and disproportionate discipline. These are controversial subjects indeed, but a critical analysis of these particular dynamics could promote the collective push to improve equity issues within our school systems. Inevitably, this dialogue pivots to the capacity of teachers and the best practices for educating underrepresented populations.

The dominant theme at the recent National Teacher Diversity Summit in Washington was the need for bringing more minority educators into the profession. The teacher population is much less diverse than the students it serves, as Black and Latino teachers make up only 17% of the nation’s educator workforce. Would a more representative population of teachers help to ameliorate student achievement? There is research evidence that supports this notion. The Center for American Progress frames the debate by revealing appreciable diversity gaps in almost every state. Rebecca Kimitch recently reported that little has been achieved in terms of changing the demographic of the nation’s teacher force over the last decade. The author also stated that same-background teaching “fosters increased confidence, trust, and comfort in the classroom every day.” Others are pursuing change through teacher preparation and professional development strategies.

In the educator preparation community, we must redouble our efforts to pursue solutions. Our recruitment, mentorship, and other targeted supports for underrepresented students truly do shape the demographics of the teacher population. (Many of you are working on these issues through the AACTE Holmes Program and the Black and Hispanic/Latino Male Teachers Initiative.) We also must be active in our commitment to prepare all teacher candidates to better address issues of educator bias, disproportionate discipline, absenteeism, and other persistent challenges facing minority students across our nation’s schools.

This year’s civil rights data and the National Teacher Diversity Summit have infused a new urgency into addressing some of our long-standing educational challenges. I believe it is time to use the momentum of these data, along with the ever-growing research from the field, to make greater strides toward diversifying the teacher workforce as a plausible solution to many problems that have impeded Black and Latino student success.

Terrance McNeil is a 3rd-year doctoral candidate in the Florida A&M University College of Education, Department of Educational Leadership. He is also vice president of the AACTE Holmes Scholars Council.

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Terrance McNeil

Holmes Scholar, Florida A&M University.