California Has a Chance to Fix Its Teacher Diversity Problem

Could tackling California’s teacher shortage also increase the state’s teacher diversity? It’s no secret there are vast race differences between California’s students and teachers. More than half of K-12 students in the state are Latino or Hispanic, but less than one in five teachers share their racial/ethnic background. This is troublesome because teacher diversity matters: Diverse teachers may provide more culturally relevant instruction and could have a greater impact on improving academic outcomes for students of color.

CA teacher diversity SY14-15

Source: DataQuest, California Department of Education, http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/.

Today’s conversation around California’s teachers focuses on the steep drop in candidates enrolled in teacher preparation programs. But as Sara Mead, Chad Aldeman, Julie Obbard, and I discuss in our latest report, future public policy should not only address fixing the teacher shortage in California; it must go one step further by simultaneously prioritizing teacher quality and diversity.

As we note in the paper, calls for improving teacher prep in California often focus on increasing requirements—setting a statewide minimum GPA for program admission or increasing how much time candidates spend on fieldwork, for example. But there’s little proof these requirements will help programs produce better teachers. And they could limit the number of candidates entering teacher preparation, with a disproportionate impact on those from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Candidates with a less privileged upbringing who had limited access to high-quality schools growing up may not have a high GPA, but could showcase their teaching potential in other ways. And candidates—particularly older ones or career-changers—who have other family or life obligations may find that increased student teaching expectations make the teacher prep experience too time-consuming or expensive (especially if it means they are unable to work while student teaching).

What the state actually needs are multiple entry points and avenues into the teaching profession, allowing candidates from all life circumstances to work in California’s schools. There are already a couple of local models that have the potential to increase teacher diversity while simultaneously dealing with the teacher shortage in California:

Residency models, under which candidates complete coursework and a classroom apprenticeship concurrently. In response to a chronic STEM teacher shortage in the Central Valley, Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) and California State University (CSU) Fresno came together to develop the 13-month Fresno Teacher Residency Program. Training is free of charge if residents commit to teaching in the district for at least five years. At least two-thirds of residents will come from underrepresented backgrounds. FUSD’s teacher diversity has increased since the residency program began; currently, 24 percent of FUSD teachers identify as Hispanic compared to the state average of 19 percent.

Seamless teacher pathways for high school students and paraprofessionals. A longstanding partnership between Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), CSU Long Beach, and the Long Beach City College has opened up a pathway for the district’s students to eventually become teachers in the same schools they attended. CSULB’s graduating teachers now fill the majority of the district’s vacancies each year and have higher retention rates than the national average. And because many of them attended K-12 schools in Long Beach themselves, they are more likely to have deep roots in the community. Under LBUSD’s Career Ladder Program, the district also recruits and supports paraprofessionals—who are more likely to match the demographic characteristics of their students—to become teachers. As of 2014-15, 38 percent of teachers in LBUSD identified as Hispanic, African American, or Asian or Pacific Islander.

It may not be intuitive, but some good could come out of California’s teacher shortage: This is an opportunity to rethink the state’s entire approach to teacher preparation—including how it recruits and supports teachers of color and those from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

One thought on “California Has a Chance to Fix Its Teacher Diversity Problem

  1. TCBoater

    Watering down training requirements isn’t the answer to teacher shortages. Attract talented, dedicated professional educators back to the classroom with better pay, benefits and working conditions. Stop underfunding schools and stop scapegoating teachers.

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