Saturday, April 13, 2024

Experts: Better pay, student loan debt relief key to diversifying state’s teacher workforce

by BIZ Magazine

By Greg Childress, Louisiana Illuminator

President Joe Biden joined U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to kick off the Department of Education’s “Road to Success Bus Tour.” The week-long, multi-state road trip showcased how school communities are helping students recover from the pandemic, as well as the strategies states and districts are using to recruit and retain educators.

Biden, a longtime community college educator, also encouraged Black students to consider a teaching career.

“Students of color deserve to have educators who look like them and who can understand their paths,” Biden said. “Because to better serve all of our students, our classrooms need diverse perspectives and the chance to learn from teachers of all backgrounds.”

The national conversation to recruit and retain teachers of color has heated up in recent years amid numerous studies that show Black students often perform better academically when they are taught by at least one teacher who looks like them.

But despite the documented benefits of having a diverse teaching workforce, recruiting and retaining teachers of color have proven to be a heavy lift.

Nationally, about 80% of teachers are white, while Black and Latino students make up slightly more than 50% of students attending the nation’s public schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And even in schools where most students are people of color, 40% to 80% of teachers are white.

According to teachers of color surveyed by a team of RAND Corporation researchers, better pay and student loan forgiveness are the keys to recruiting and retaining them. The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that develops solutions to public policy. The survey findings are from a section of the 2022 “State of the American Teacher” survey that focused on the racial and ethnic diversity of the nation’s teacher workforce.

A panel of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners who participated in a related discussion agreed that increased pay and loan forgiveness are promising practices to help school districts attract and keep more teachers of color. “Grow-your-own” programs that introduce middle school and high school students to the profession also got a nod from the panel.

Elizabeth Steiner, a policy researcher at the Rand Corporation who led the project, said it makes sense that issues around financial relief were a priority. In addition to increasing pay and loan forgiveness, policies to reduce the cost of teacher preparation programs, stipends, service scholarships and other such strategies to relieve the burdens of people working to become teachers are necessary to attract more people of color, survey respondents said.

“We saw very strongly through these results that these policies together or a combination were ranked at the top by teachers,” Steiner said. “I think this makes sense given what we know; Black students generally and Hispanic students generally are more likely to incur student debt as they’re going through their post-secondary education and more likely to have larger amounts of student debt than white students, and so we hypothesize that might be one reason that pay and financial relief strategies were perceived to be at the top of teacher rankings.”

According to the Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances, 30.2% of Black families hold student loan debt versus 20% of white families and 14.3% of Latino families. Black families owe a median of $30,000 in student loans compare to $23,000 among white families and $17,600 among Hispanic families.

Here are additional findings from the RAND report:

  • No panelists and very few teachers supported ending or reducing certification requirements or eliminating preparation program admission standards to recruit teachers of color.
  • Principals of color often rely on social networks to recruit teachers of color.
  • Panelists endorsed training— such anti-racist hiring practices and supporting new teachers of color— as an effective hiring practice at higher rates than teachers of color did.

Teachers of color indicated that working with other staff of color and nurturing positive collegial relationships could boost retention

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