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This Database Could Help Boost Teacher Diversity

  ·  Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro

As student-of-color demographics reach the “majority-minority” tipping point across the nation, building diversity within the teacher workforce has become increasingly urgent.  In response to that urgency, I’ve begun to develop a database to encourage educators and administrators to consider the myriad of ways to diversify the teacher candidate pool, provide linguistically and culturally responsive pedagogy, and offer rich field experiences in diverse settings. You can find the Teacher Diversity Database on the Latino Policy Forum’s website here.

A growing body of research shows students who have teachers from diverse cultural, ethnic and racial background stand to reap additional benefits from the experience, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Diverse teachers augment learning and academic outcomes, decrease rates of absenteeism, and provide a boost to higher rates of college matriculation for racial/ethnic minority students.
  • Diverse teachers are more likely to employ teaching strategies and texts that connect with students’ backgrounds, establish cultural links between home and school, exhibit higher expectations for minority students, serve as role models and create environments that reduce student feelings of isolation, instead celebrating student differences.
  • Teachers of color are more likely to work and remain in hard-to-staff schools than their White counterparts. 

Growing the number of racially and ethnically diverse teachers can decrease turnover and increase the effectiveness of the teacher workforce in hard-to-staff schools.

The Center for American Progress’ report (2011) Teacher Diversity Matters, indicates that 40 percent of the public school population nationwide are students of color (23percent Latino, 18 percent African American) compared to just 17 percent of the teaching force who are of color. For Illinois, the disparity is even greater: Students of color account for 46 percent of all the state’s public school students, while only 11 percent of their educators are also of color (6 percent African American and 5 percent Latino).

The disparity is only widened by the fact that as student diversity continues to increase, the diversity of their educators simply isn’t keeping pace with that growth.

But promoting racial, ethnic, and gender diversity isn’t enough to ensure our students’ needs are met. While the student population becomes increasingly ethnically and racially diverse, it also grows linguistically diverse. Within Illinois, one of every four public school students comes from homes where a language other than English is spoken.  And the absence of programs and strategies to foster linguistic diversity among educators is a troubling reality for these kids.  Hiring from a diverse pool of teachers doesn’t ensure those educators understand the complexity of language learning or that they’re prepared on how to best support it in their classrooms.

Language is fundamental and inseparable from learning.  It is the essential medium to access curriculum, read, write, interact, and assess students.  Boosting the number of linguistically competent teachers needs to be equally prioritized.

Bilingual programming faces a perpetual dearth of qualified bilingual educators.  A 2012 report in Catalyst Chicago found, after a review of audits by the Illinois State Board of Education, that being out of compliance with the bilingual legislation was actually the norm for school districts.  The biggest shortfall is an inability to provide sufficient native language instruction.  As a result, the state often has to reach outside the U.S. to recruit and retain bilingual educators.

In response to these challenges, the database will provide schools and the general public with strategies and programs from across the country that encourage racially, culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse students and paraprofessionals to seek careers in education. It will serve as a resource to inform educators on how they can adopt pertinent programmatic and strategic prospects within their own schools. The work also includes programs that partner with other organizational entities to spur these efforts.

The database includes:

  • Programs that have or are currently promoting diversity in the teacher candidate pool;
  • Alternative certification programs that aim to increase the overall number of teachers along with strategies to augment the number of diverse teachers;
  • In-service programs that provide both pedagogical content and rich field experiences geared towards preparing every teacher with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to work with a linguistically and culturally diverse student population;
  • Strategies recommended, but not yet implemented, that intend to bolster the number of diverse teachers along with preparation for linguistically and culturally varied student populations.

The database does not provide an evaluation nor endorse the programs listed, but rather serves as a resource to catalogue initiatives and strategies. We at the Latino Policy Forum hope the project will contribute to the development of a pipeline of diverse candidates into the field of education, future teachers who will go on to serve their communities, equipped with the very linguistic and cultural preparedness their students need most.


PHOTO: U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr / Creative Commons 

Posted In: Leadership, Education