Virginia is becoming one of the most racially diverse states in the union, and that is reflective of the students in the classrooms of its public schools.
But of the 918,000 teachers employed by the state’s county and city public schools divisions, only 11 percent of them are African-American.
Seventy-nine percent of the state’s public school teachers are White and only 2 percent are Hispanic.
At the same time, African-American students represent 23 percent of the state’s public school population, overall. But in urban centers such as Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond, they are in the majority.
This disparity in the percentage of Black students versus the number of African-American teachers has been a concern of education advocates for decades.
A taskforce comprised of Virginia educators, superintendents, human resource professionals, higher education teacher preparation program administrators, and state level policy staff met over the course of nine months to discuss the nuance of this challenge and they identified possible solutions in a report released recently.
In late 2016, the Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent, who is African-American, established The Taskforce on Diversifying Virginia’s Educator Pipeline (TDVEP). She noted that Virginia faced a rapidly-growing teacher shortage and a shrinking pool of candidates that is increasingly less diverse.
Formed in partnership with the National Governor’s Association, the taskforce was charged with developing recommendations to increase diversity in Virginia’s teaching workforce.
Working with research that indicates a racially representative mix of teachers and administrators can have a strong positive effect on educational outcomes for minority students, Virginia’s disproportionate school staff thereby poses a direct threat to the success of Virginia’s students.
To address this issue, the taskforce determined that Virginia must acknowledge the unique set of challenges faced by minority educators and advance strategies specifically tailored to attract, retain, and support teachers of color.
Members identified three key barriers preventing minority education candidates from becoming and remaining teachers:
First, the length and cost of the traditional teacher preparation pathway is disproportionate to salary, which is particularly burdensome for first-generation college students and low income students – who are often minorities.
Second, the report said, students are not exposed to or made aware of pathways into the profession early enough, nor are non-teaching majors aware of potential pathways into the profession.
And third, the provisional licensing route is underutilized, and teachers of color who are provisionally licensed in Virginia obtain full licensure at lower rates than their peers.
Virginia, like the rest of the country, is struggling not only to recruit minority teachers but also to retain them, according to the report.
Nationally, teachers of color leave schools and the teaching profession at particularly high rates, with a turnover rate of 18.9 percent in 2012-13, compared to 15 percent for White teachers.
Additionally, teachers of color in Virginia with provisional licenses are less likely than their peers to complete full licensure and remain in the profession. According to the report, only 63 percent of minority teachers in Virginia with provisional licenses acquire their full time teaching license, a far lower percentage than any other racial category.
No singular solution exists for any of these hurdles, but the taskorce provided a number of useful suggestions relating to each.
One is that the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) should revise the Approved Program Regulations to allow undergraduate education based majors in teaching/education in schools, colleges, and departments of education.
Second the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) should develop a model “Grow your own program” (GYO) to interest high school students in teaching careers, and deploy it to all local school divisions. The state should also provide financial incentives and supports to divisions for the design and implementation of GYO programs.
As part of this, dual enrollment offerings should be expanded at the high school level and should transfer seamlessly into degree pathways for students.
State and local educational divisions should provide model teacher induction and mentorship programs, and support their implementation and training.
The taskforce said Title II federal funds, used to bolster educational services for poor students, and increased state resources should be devoted to recruiting mentors to support provisionally licensed teachers until they achieve full licensure.
Many minority and poor college students are having issues passing the Praxis tests. The taskforce suggested developing the Virginia Communication and Literacy Assessment, and test prep programs for minority and low-income students.
The state should schedule annual conferences and invite experienced teachers and teacher candidates of color to help facilitate their engagement in policy development as well as recruitment and retention strategies.
“Such events would highlight the state’s commitment to facilitating a diverse teaching workforce for our students, help non-teaching major students understand options for teaching out of college, and supports human resource departments from local school divisions in the recruitment of potential teachers.”
Next Week: Educational professionals talk about the historic and institutional reasons for the minority teacher shortage.
By Leonard E. Colvin