Participants included administrators at historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, resource specialists in several school systems, and teachers of color who have emerged as influential voices. Also showcased were comments from AFT President Randi Weingarten, U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Secretary John King Jr., and the perspectives of individual students and teachers.
Baltimore educator and AFT-affiliated union member Harry Bridges told the audience that the diversity problem in education “is so important to our children.” He called efforts to close the “diversity gap” between educators and their students gap a challenge where “there is so much work to be done.”
Statistics bear out Bridges’ argument. The DOE reports that white educators represent 82 percent of public school teachers — a number hardly changed in 15 years. Every state has a higher percentage of students of color than educators of color. White teachers constitute almost three-quarters of those in urban education and more than 90 percent in suburban schools.
Weingarten, who last year called upon the White House to organize a summit addressing this critical issue, told the audience that the teaching diversity problem is stubborn but not intractable.
“We need a path forward to recruit, support, prepare and retain” a diverse workforce in teaching, said Weingarten. “Teachers of color, especially African-Americans, are not leaving at a high rate because of student demographics; they are leaving because of working conditions in their schools,” she stressed.
Disincentives include a “test and punish” climate where “you have the most testing, test prep and stress” in schools with the highest numbers of teachers of color and students of color — a situation that “defies the imagination.” Weingarten pointed to research showing that the strongest complaints from teachers of color relate to a lack of collective voice in education decisions and a lack of professional autonomy in the classroom.
“Teachers of color, like all teachers, need the time, tools and trust to do their jobs effectively,” Weingarten added.
During the event, the DOE released “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce.” The report makes the case that a diverse teaching force is an “educational civil right” for students and documents the work needed to achieve this critical national goal.
The report sheds new light on one facet of the diversity problem — the preparation of teachers in schools of education. That’s why our union is calling for more research and interventions around other elements that affect outcomes — from inducting teachers of color to supporting and retaining them.
That will take working with the White House, Congress and other education stakeholders to help build data and analysis capabilities to monitor workforce trends. It will also take crafting and supporting the types of thoughtful interventions and programs that will diversify the nation’s teaching force.
The first-ever National Summit on Teacher Diversity was held with the support of 15 organizations including AFT, the National Education Association (NEA) and the Albert Shanker Institute (ASI). The DOE’s report follows a 2015 ASI study examining the state of teacher diversity in nine large U.S. cities.
for our previous post on the ASI diversity report.