New plan released to recruit and retain more teachers of color

Jenny Brundin/CPR News
Shayla Williams (left) and Zuri Hunter (center) lost their positions as technology support professionals during DPS’s recent cuts to central office. They were both seeking elementary school teacher positions at a DPS job fair but stopped to chat with Benicia Mitchell, assistant principal at Denver’s Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy.

Thousands of students of color in Colorado go through their entire academic career without seeing an educator who shares their race, ethnicity, gender, language or background. A new report, the product of a state-mandated work group, lists the most promising strategies to diversify Colorado’s educator workforce.

Years of attempts to diversify Colorado’s teaching workforce have fallen short. The vast majority of teachers in the state are white. Despite Black and African American students making up 4.5 percent of Colorado students, only 1.6 percent of teachers are African American or Black. Hispanic or Latinx (the fastest growing demographic in the state) makes up 34.5 percent of the student population, but only 8.8 percent of teachers are Hispanic or Latinx.

The work group was charged with investigating barriers to the recruitment, preparation and retention of a racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse workforce.

“The work of this group has been difficult and emotional for me. I spent more than two decades wondering why the stories of teachers of color, our stories, didn’t center our work for all teachers,” said Gerardo Muñoz, workgroup member and manager of learning and development for Denver Public Schools and 2021 Colorado Teacher of the Year. “This information gives us a way forward to improve the educational experience of teachers of color and the communities we serve.”

Why is it important? Studies show teachers of color may be more adept at building relationships

Studies show that students feel more cared for, are more motivated by, and learn more from educators who look and sound like them. Research also suggests that all students benefit from having at least one teacher of color, and students of color that have had at least one same-race teacher in third through fifth grades were nearly 40 percent less likely to drop out of high school than those who had not had a teacher of color.

One 2016 survey of student perceptions looked at seven domains including how well a teacher motivated students to perform and how cared for students felt. Students rated Hispanic or Latinx teachers higher than white teachers across all measures, and African American or Black teachers were rated more favorably than white teachers on five of seven measures, the report states.

The researchers suggested that teachers of color could have greater multicultural awareness, which translates into deeper connections with all students. They also help white students interact and learn from people of different races and ethnicities, the study said.

Barriers to recruiting more teachers of color

Salary does matter. One study shows Colorado ranks 48th in the nation for average starting pay ($35,724) and 26th for average teacher salary ($58,183). It is one of only six states that pay teachers below the state’s average salary for workers in professions that require the same level of education. In 1996, teachers and their peers’ wages were quite similar.

The cost to attend college has skyrocketed in Colorado as state appropriations have declined. Tuition has increased more than 65 percent over the past 10 years. Students of color are much more likely to accrue debt than white students. Aspiring teachers also take out loans to cover costs during their student teaching. Those are assignments which are often unpaid.

The licensing requirement is another barrier. The first try pass rates of the test required to become a teacher are lower for teacher candidates of color. Two in five Colorado education students who do not pass the elementary content teacher licensure exam on the first try walk away from the profession, the report said.

Finally, teachers of color who leave the profession report feeling isolated as they are often the only teacher of color in their schools. Male teachers of color are often sought out to be disciplinarians for other students in the school, even when they are in charge of their own classroom.

Strategies recommended by the workgroup to diversify the workforce

  • Provide a competitive salary and other financial incentives
  • Continue to invest in programs that encourage high school students of  color, classroom aides and local community members to become teachers.    
  • Provide incentives for districts for recruitment and accountability measures to track progress.
  • Invest in a media campaign about teaching as a profession that elevates the voices of current educators of color.    
  • Provide support and resources to understand and address implicit bias and microaggressions in school districts.

 Preparation Strategies

  • Provide paid student teaching/residencies during student teaching experiences.
  • Ensure multiple approved measures of competency can be used to demonstrate preparedness for licensure.  
  • Provide mentorship opportunities for aspiring teachers and support and compensation for mentor teachers. 
  • Invest in preparation programs at institutions and fund statewide, regional, and/or local cohorts of candidates of color. 
  • Ensure that preparation programs include culturally relevant pedagogy for all aspiring educators (including principals and administrators).      

Retention Strategies

  • Provide support and resources to schools and districts to implement culturally relevant practices and to understand and address implicit bias and microaggressions in the classroom and workplace.
  • Provide mentoring, and professional development opportunities for teachers of color that respond to their unique needs.  
  • Support social-emotional wellness for teachers of color through racial alliance groups at the school and district levels.