The TeachStrong Theory of Change
The TeachStrong coalition has adopted nine principles we believe must be put in practice in order to modernize and elevate the teaching profession. This policy proposal from the TeachStrong coalition explains how we can identify and recruit more teacher candidates with great potential to succeed, with a deliberate emphasis on diversifying the teacher workforce. This proposal builds out Principle One, the first of the nine TeachStrong principles. Although this proposal addresses just one principle, the nine principles affect and build upon one another and must be aligned to achieve systemic changes to the teaching profession.
Thoughtful changes across the teaching career continuum are necessary to improve teaching and learning for all students—especially students of color and those from low-income families. While higher expectations for students and schools have heightened the demands placed on teachers, the systems that are designed to support teachers have not kept pace. These gaps are especially apparent in high-needs schools.
This campaign seeks to promote changes that span a teacher’s career, starting with recruitment and preparation and continuing on through compensation and career pathways, paying particular attention to the importance of the professional context in which teachers work. The TeachStrong coalition believes that all aspects of the teaching profession must be addressed in a systemic way; only then can we create a self-reinforcing cycle through which the status of the profession is raised along with the quality of teaching and learning in our nation’s classrooms.
We need a comprehensive approach to addressing the teacher pipeline because we have seen that piecemeal policy changes do not work. In the past, there have been attempts to address singular aspects of the teacher pipeline, and while these efforts may have made significant changes to one area, the system as a whole remained largely unchanged. For example, if we were to focus solely on preparation programs, it might give beginning teachers a stronger start. But student learning will not significantly improve if teacher training and development are ineffective or if teachers do not have opportunities to lead. In combination, however, changes in these areas could have powerful, lasting effects. Moreover, if we are to ensure that great teaching consistently reaches all students, we must explicitly address inequities in access to our strongest educators for low-income students and students of color.
No one simple policy fix will be enough to move the system as a whole. Many of the institutions responsible for educating, training, and setting policy for teachers operate in isolated silos that are sometimes disconnected from teachers themselves. The work is not easy: Policymakers must strive for a comprehensive system while factoring in other realities, such as existing political landscapes and the unique situations and contexts of individual states. However, as demonstrated by the consensus achieved by the diverse TeachStrong coalition around these nine principles, success is possible.
To achieve the kinds of dramatic changes we need for student achievement—and for those changes to be sustainable for teachers, students, and taxpayers alike—we need dramatic changes to all aspects of the systems designed to support teachers.
Recruitment is key to strengthening the teaching profession
Millennials are shying away from teaching careers: Teacher preparation program enrollment has declined 30 percent since 2008,2 and many school districts across the nation are experiencing critical shortages.3 Many young prospective teachers find teaching less attractive than other professions,4 especially given low salaries, challenging working conditions, and a media culture that can be unsupportive of teachers.
In a 2014 poll of high-achieving undergraduate students, only 35 percent of respondents described teachers as “smart.”5 Education was seen as the top profession that “average” people choose, and respondents consistently ranked education as one of the easiest majors; only 9 percent viewed the major as “very difficult.”6 At the same time, however, the 2015 National Survey of Student Engagement reported that students who were enrolled in educator preparation courses rated the challenge level of their courses higher than any group other than those preparing for health professions.7 This demonstrates a misalignment between high-achieving undergraduate students and students in teacher preparation programs and a disconnect between their respective views of the rigor of teacher training.
Additionally, although a significant portion of the working-age population would consider a career shift to teaching,8 there has been little in the way of systemic policy shifts to make this transition possible for more career-changers. Working professionals with expertise in math and science who come from diverse backgrounds and bring other knowledge and skills honed over years in the workplace are a largely untapped source of potential high-performing teachers.9 In order for professionals to make the shift to teaching careers, they need to be aware of the opportunities available, which is recruitment’s role.
Recruitment is an important strategy to combat the lack of diversity in the profession, high-achieving students’ disinterest in teaching, and acute shortages in the teacher pipeline. Although important, recruitment alone cannot solve the more systemic problems with teacher working conditions—it is one of the many strategies we can and must employ to modernize and elevate the profession, but it is not a panacea.
Other industries have excelled at recruiting applicants who are not just stellar job candidates but who also reflect diverse backgrounds. Some teacher preparation programs have successfully employed targeted strategies to attract more diverse teacher candidates with great potential to succeed. Although elevating the teaching profession will require a comprehensive approach, education organizations and teacher preparation programs agree: We need to recruit, train, and support a more diverse, high-achieving teacher workforce. The pathway to a modernized and elevated teaching profession begins with intentional recruitment.
The teaching profession needs to be more diverse
As our student population becomes increasingly diverse, the teachers leading American classrooms remain much more homogenous. Not only are American teachers less diverse than the student population they serve, but the teaching profession is also less diverse than the working-age population in the United States. While people of color make up more than one-third of the labor force,11 less than 20 percent of teachers identify as people of color.12 Recruitment is essential to ensure that highly qualified candidates consider a career in teaching, as well as to combat current diversity disparities in today’s schools and within the teaching profession.
In 2014, the percentage of students of color exceeded the percentage of white students in U.S. public schools for the first time.13 Meanwhile, 84 percent of all public school teachers identify as white.14 While this disparity occurs in classrooms across the country, the diversity gap is especially pronounced in many urban school districts.15 In Boston, for example, there is one Hispanic teacher for every 52 Hispanic students, and one black teacher for every 22 black students. The ratio of white teachers to white students, by contrast, is one to fewer than three.16
Diversity comes in many forms—including race, ethnicity, language, gender, socio-economic status, and ability—but these forms of diversity are not always well-represented in the teaching profession. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 4.85 million English language learners, or ELLs, were enrolled in public schools during the 2012-13 academic year, representing nearly 10 percent of the total K-12 student population.17 Nearly one student in four speaks a language other than English at home—the same is true for only about one in eight teachers.18 Teaching also remains a female-dominated profession. As of the 2011-12 school year, only 24 percent of public school teachers were male.19
Increasing racial, ethnic, linguistic, socio-economic, and gender diversity in the teacher workforce can have a positive effect for all students, but the impact is even more pronounced when students have a teacher who shares characteristics of their identity.20 For example, teachers of color are often better able to engage students of color,21 and students of color score higher on standardized tests when taught by teachers of color.22 By holding students of color to a set of high expectations,23 providing culturally relevant teaching, confronting racism through teaching, and developing trusting relationships with their students, teachers of color can increase other educational outcomes for students of color, such as high school completion and college attendance.24
In a variety of ways, the current teacher workforce is not reflective of our student body. Having teachers from diverse backgrounds is ultimately beneficial to all students. By learning from a racially, culturally, socio-economically, and linguistically diverse set of teachers, students develop a better understanding of the world around them and cultivate skills that are important for success, such as being able to communicate across lines of difference.25
Limitations to identifying and recruiting more diverse teacher candidates with great potential to succeed
Many teacher preparation programs and districts face challenges when actively recruiting and hiring diverse, high-achieving candidates. This is especially true in shortage areas. Teacher preparation programs struggle to actively recruit candidates to address teacher shortages in hard-to-staff schools and high-needs areas such as math, science, and special education.26 The recruiting structure of most undergraduate institutions is such that the college or university, rather than individual programs and departments, typically manages recruitment.
Institutional structures and the lack of communication between teacher preparation programs, colleges and universities, and school districts are not the only obstacles to recruitment. There are few data to suggest which recruiting strategies are most effective. A 2008 study highlighted the importance of using teacher recruitment strategies at the district level. In New York, districts that used only a limited set of recruitment practices hired less qualified teachers than districts that actively recruited candidates.27 However, teacher recruitment by districts remains a poorly researched and poorly understood component of the teacher pipeline. A 2005 report completed by the Education Commission of the States found no studies on the majority of recruitment strategies that have been employed by states and districts.28 These data are essential to ensure that states, districts, and teacher preparation programs are forming necessary partnerships to successfully recruit high-achieving, diverse candidates.
How identifying and recruiting more diverse teacher candidates can modernize and elevate the teaching profession
Because of increased segregation and enduring educational inequities, the pipeline for teacher preparation programs is too narrow. School segregation isolates many students of color in neighborhoods that battle entrenched poverty—where housing remains inadequate and the unemployment rate is considerably higher than that of more affluent communities29—and these challenges affect student academic success. Teacher preparation programs and school districts will struggle to compete with other industries in the recruitment process unless they also address these systemic issues. Therefore, it is important to remember that recruitment is only part of the solution. Diminishing school segregation, supporting postsecondary access and success for all students, and closing achievement gaps are also essential to broadening the pool of potential teachers.
However, intentional recruitment of potential teachers can strengthen the teacher workforce in the long run. Too often, the process for recruiting and selecting teachers—into both teacher preparation programs and district teaching positions—is an afterthought or something that falls behind other competing priorities. Few teacher preparation programs or districts have dedicated funds or teams for recruitment. If recruitment into teaching were a more intentional, collaborative process between teacher preparation programs, universities, and school districts, it could have a significant long-term effect on the teacher workforce, in terms of both quality and retention. Intentional recruitment requires a focus on finding diverse candidates with strong academic backgrounds and the characteristics and skills that indicate their potential as a future teacher. This change would rely on successful collaboration between preparation programs, school districts, and undergraduate institutions writ large.
The impact of recruiting diverse and high-potential candidates would extend well beyond those who are themselves recruited. Students of color are currently stuck in a vicious cycle: They disproportionately attend low-performing schools,30 which too often fail to set them up with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in postsecondary education and beyond. This means that the pipeline for teachers of color is too narrow. If school districts and teacher preparation programs were to actively recruit high-achieving, diverse candidates, their students’ achievement, sense of possibility, and range of opportunities would improve. This could create a cycle of positive reinforcement whereby more students of diverse backgrounds are prepared to enter the teaching profession and, because they benefited from teachers with similar and diverse backgrounds, are increasingly interested in a career in teaching.
Exemplars that identify and recruit more diverse teacher candidates with great potential to succeed
Some teacher preparation programs, states, and school districts have demonstrated marked success in aggressively recruiting, preparing, and supporting some of the most highly qualified, diverse cohorts of teacher candidates in the nation.
Some states have concentrated on recruiting diverse candidates with a high likelihood of succeeding as teachers. In 2010, 31 of the 50 states were implementing policies to support recruitment of teachers of color.32 For example, the Illinois General Assembly passed a state law in 2004 to provide funding to the Grow Your Own Teachers program, or GYO, which helps classroom aides and education support professionals become certified teachers.33 Community organizations, school districts, and institutions of higher education in the state work together to recruit and prepare program participants, approximately 87 percent of whom are people of color.34 In 2015, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics recognized GYO as a “bright spot”35 for supporting and placing diverse teacher candidates, especially in bilingual classrooms.36 Almost 40 percent of GYO teachers teach bilingual or special education.37
Meanwhile, the Teacher Academy of Maryland recruits high school students from diverse backgrounds using a new curriculum that can serve as a bridge to further education and a teaching career.38 Students take elective coursework in classroom management, curriculum delivery models, and learning theory while in high school. They eventually have the option of pursuing certification as an instructional assistant or moving on to a four-year degree.39
Traditional preparation programs
Historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, and Hispanic-serving institutions can play a vital role in diversifying the teacher workforce and preparing high-achieving students to become future teachers. Clark Atlanta University and Albany State University—both HBCUs—participate in the Network for Enhancing Teacher-Quality, or NET-Q, a project run by Georgia State University to increase the quality and number of highly qualified teachers who are committed to high-needs schools. NET-Q works with HBCUs to enhance their teacher preparation programs and create teacher residency programs for diverse teacher candidates.40 The program is also highly selective: Teachers participating in NET-Q teacher residencies must submit GRE graduate school entry exam scores and letters of recommendation and possess at least a 3.0 GPA.41
Similarly, the California State University, or CSU, schools implemented a series of recruitment strategies aimed at expanding and diversifying the pool of candidates, as well as creating new credential pathways. All CSU campuses house a Teacher Recruitment Project, which each operate these recruitment initiatives.42 The CSU Teacher Recruitment Projects target high school students, community college students, teacher aides, and midcareer professionals.43 In 2016, the Executive Committee of the CSU Deans and Associate Deans of Education released a white paper recommending several improvements to recruitment efforts, especially to target career-changers.44 The white paper calls for more alternative models of teacher preparation, including weekend programs, co-teaching designs, and hybrid face-to-face and online programs.45
Alternative certification programs and charter school networks
Some alternative certification providers also actively recruit diverse, highly qualified candidates. Almost half of 2015 Teach For America, or TFA, corps members identified as people of color,46 compared with less than 20 percent of teachers nationwide.47 The candidate acceptance rate between 2009 and 2012 averaged below 15 percent, making Teach For America one of the most highly selective teacher training programs in the country.48 Additionally, some residency-based teacher programs also are putting more effort into recruiting diverse, high-achieving candidates. The Memphis Teacher Residency is 29 percent male, 7 percent Asian American, and 21 percent African American; in the program, teacher candidates participate in a one-year residency and complete additional years of preparation after they begin working in schools.49 The selection process into the Memphis Teacher Residency is competitive, with selection rates averaging between 13 percent and 18 percent.50
Some charter schools also have endeavored to recruit diverse teachers. Teachers of color make up 27.6 percent of the charter school teaching population, compared with 16 percent within district schools.51 For example, Uncommon Schools—a charter school network in Boston, New Jersey, and New York—runs a competitive summer teaching fellowship that targets students of color in their junior year of college.52 Fifty-two fellowship alumni now teach in Uncommon classrooms.53
Programs within school districts
Several school districts also offer programs that recruit high-achieving, diverse candidates. For example, Boston Public Schools Teaching Fellowship Program only considers candidates who “display excellence in their previous endeavors, and who are dedicated to reaching and influencing students—especially those in under-resourced areas—on a daily basis.”54 On top of their selection criteria, Boston Public Schools, or BPS, emphasizes diversity in its prospective teacher population. Fifty percent of the participants in the BPS Teaching Fellowship are people of color, compared with 37 percent of BPS teachers overall.55 BPS also runs the BPS High School to Teacher Program, which identifies students in high school who would make excellent teachers. The program provides participants with mentors and college preparation courses, pays for half of their college tuition, and provides each student a teaching job upon graduation. Eighty-seven percent of the participants are black or Latino.56
The Los Angeles Unified School District created a program similar to the Memphis Teacher Residency, allowing highly qualified, diverse graduates from local universities the chance to gain valuable clinical training under the guidance of a mentor teacher.57 The San Francisco Unified School District employs a similar program and also holds regular recruitment events specifically targeting diverse candidates.58 Denver Public Schools recently launched Make Your Mark Denver, a two-year campaign dedicated to recruiting “exceptional” teachers of color through recruiting events and a mentoring program.59 Lastly, the Saint Paul Public Schools Urban Teacher Residency program also incentivizes the recruitment of diverse teachers by offering financial aid and hiring preference in the Saint Paul school district.60
High school recruitment programs
Some innovative programs also can serve as models for intentional recruitment of high-achieving, diverse candidates. Educators Rising is a national network supporting high school programs in which students explore teaching through course work and clinical internships.61 Additionally, Educators Rising offers a national student conference, an Educators Rising “honor society,” micro-credentials, and scholarships to participating students.62 Students of color make up 48 percent of Educators Rising’s membership.63
As the oldest teacher recruitment program in the country, South Carolina’s Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement, or CERRA, facilitates a variety of programs that aim to recruit, retain, and support highly qualified teacher candidates.64 CERRA recruits middle and high school students, college students, and career-changers by offering an array of programs across the state.65 For example, the Teacher Cadets Program is a high school recruitment program offered at nearly 160 schools in South Carolina.66 As Teacher Cadets, high-achieving juniors and seniors who express an interest in teaching complete field placements in classrooms and learn about curriculum development.67 The South Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, another one of CERRA’s recruitment programs, is one of the most competitive scholarship and loan programs in the state: Through the program, select high school seniors who display a strong desire to pursue teaching receive a forgivable loan to attend college.68
These examples range from traditional preparation programs and alternative certification providers to state- and district-run programs and serve teacher candidates as early as high school and as late as midcareer. However, they all prioritize intentional recruitment of highly qualified candidates, with a specific focus on diversifying the teacher workforce. The innovative strategies that these programs employ—including building relationships with teacher candidates, creating relationships with partnering institutions, and providing mentorships and financial aid—should serve as models for teacher preparation programs and school districts nationwide.
How other fields recruit diverse, high-achieving candidates
Other industries, including transportation and communications, can serve as models of how to actively recruit diverse, high-achieving candidates. For example, AT&T partners with schools that serve diverse populations, including many HBCUs.69 Additionally, the company sponsors events with organizations that represent students of color.70 Bank of America also partners with 12 diverse colleges and universities and actively recruits from 200 schools globally.71 The company recruits diverse candidates by partnering with groups such as The Posse Foundation, Emerging Leaders, and JumpStart Undergraduate Diversity Forum.72 Enterprise Holdings Inc., which is the Enterprise, National, and Alamo brand of car rentals, actively recruits diverse, high-achieving college graduates. The company partners with several groups that serve populations of color, such as the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, the National Association of Black Accountants, and the Black Executive Exchange Program, which is part of the National Urban League.73
Undergraduate and graduate preparation programs, the institutions of higher education that house them, and school districts should work together to recruit diverse, high-achieving candidates. Because most preparation programs currently are not structured to dedicate resources specifically to recruitment, it is essential that preparation programs and the undergraduate institutions in which they are housed form close partnerships to attract diverse candidates. Teacher preparation programs also should work closely with their respective educational institutions to ensure that recruitment and retention of diverse candidates are prioritized on an institution wide level, thereby expanding the pool of potential teacher candidates in preparation programs. Accreditors should consider these efforts when approving new teacher preparation programs.
Preparation programs and districts should work together to identify shortage areas, conduct research into best practices, and share recruiting strategies. For example, an urban district and a nearby preparation program may want to collaborate to highlight the vibrancy of the location to potential young teachers or focus on reaching out to students who grew up in the area. School districts can expand the teacher pipeline further by recruiting second-career teachers, many of whom can help address shortage areas such as math and science.74
Undergraduate and graduate preparation programs—and the institutions of higher education that house them—should dedicate more resources to finding and recruiting diverse, high-achieving individuals with great potential to succeed as teachers. Recruitment can take many forms, including websites and information clearinghouses. However, personalized recruitment strategies, such as setting up individual meetings with potential candidates, are considered the gold standard. While each preparation program will need to develop recruitment strategies that fit its needs and context, best practices in other fields and other teacher preparation programs can provide helpful guidance. For example, a teacher preparation program may want to highlight its success placing alumni in selective and high-paying districts—where the needs are great—and work to improve its local alumni network so that it functions as a mentorship program for novice teachers.
Financial support is critical to recruit and retain low-income students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.75 Therefore, teacher preparation programs should use loan forgiveness, scholarships, and other financial incentives to attract diverse, high-achieving candidates.
States should incentivize a shift toward more intentional recruitment and provide resources for doing so. In order to encourage districts, preparation programs, and undergraduate institutions to recruit more intentionally, states can provide funding in the form of grants or make recruitment an allowable or required use of existing funding streams. Additionally, states should examine preparation programs’ strategies for recruiting high-achieving, diverse candidates as part of their authorization and oversight systems.
States can use the data they already collect to support districts and programs in this transition. For example, states may determine and disseminate best practices in their recruitment; states also may invest in determining the strategies and messages that resonate most with diverse, high-achieving potential teachers and make these tactics available to preparation programs and districts. Additionally, states should collect data from teacher preparation programs that measure how well training programs are recruiting and retaining diverse candidates and make these data available to the public.
States should encourage districts to more intentionally recruit diverse, high-achieving candidates through “grow your own” programs. States should provide school districts with financial incentives to adopt grow-your-own programs that reimagine the career trajectory of education support professionals, or ESPs. Many of these professionals already have intimate knowledge of the qualities of successful teaching and classroom management and live in the communities in which they work. By crafting ESP positions that feed into the teacher pipeline, school districts are able to capitalize on an existing cohort of diverse employees that often reflect the school community. Researchers already have suggested that school districts consider new sources of possible teacher candidates, including ESPs and returned Peace Corps volunteers.76 The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law into December 2015, allows states to dedicate Title II funds to carry out programs that establish, expand, or improve alternative routes into teaching for paraprofessionals and former military personnel.77
Districts should develop priority-hiring processes for high-needs schools to ensure that all students have access to diverse, high-achieving teachers. Districts should allow high-needs schools the opportunity to hire from teacher applicant pools before other, high-performing schools within the district. By coupling priority hiring for high-needs schools with sustained financial incentives for teachers to assume positions in more challenging schools, high-needs districts can attain expanded access to diverse, high-achieving teacher candidates. This can increase equity in teacher access and quality for all students, no matter their school district.
Given that increasing teacher workforce diversity will take considerable time, districts should also supplement their recruiting efforts to diversify the teacher workforce with district training and ongoing support for culturally responsive pedagogy. Regardless of teacher workforce diversity, teacher preparation programs and districts should train all teachers in the cultural competencies necessary to best serve our diverse student population.
States and school districts should work with historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions, or HSIs, to ensure diversity in the teaching profession. In 2011, HBCUs conferred one-fourth of the bachelor’s degrees in education awarded to African Americans.78 HSIs play a similarly critical role in ensuring that the teaching profession is representative of a diverse student population: HSIs produce 90 percent of the nation’s Hispanic/Latino teachers.79 States and school districts should form partnerships with HBCUs and HSIs to recruit diverse, high-achieving graduates into the teaching profession.
States and school districts should work with programs that connect diverse, high-achieving candidates, including high school students, to the classroom. States and school districts should capitalize on programs such as Boston Public Schools’ High School to Teacher Program and Educators Rising, which work to connect ambitious, diverse cohorts of high school students with teacher preparation programs and opportunities to work in classrooms. States and school districts also should consider internship programs that give high-achieving undergraduate students the opportunity to try teaching, similar to those provided by Breakthrough Collaborative and Uncommon Schools.
Additionally, states and school districts should capitalize on programs such as Profound Gentlemen, which works to recruit male educators of color. Profound Gentlemen also prioritizes other components of the teacher pipeline to increase retention of these teachers, especially through induction programs that develop participants’ teaching skills and increase student academic performance.80
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- Personal communication from Robert E. Croston Jr., principal of Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts and TeachStrong ambassador, March 5, 2016.
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- Boston Public Schools, “Boston Public Schools at a Glance: 2014-2015” (2014), available at http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/cms/lib07/MA01906464/Centricity/domain/187/publications/At%20a%20Glance/BPS%20at%20a%20Glance%2014-1030.pdf.
- Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, Sarah Hooker, and Jeanne Batalova, “States and Districts with the Highest Number and Share of English Language Learners” (Washington: Migration Policy Institute, 2015), available at http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/states-and-districts-highest-number-and-share-english-language-learners.
- Kaylan Connally and Kim Dancy, “Paraprofessionals Could Help Solve Bilingual Teacher Shortages,” EdCentral blog, April 26, 2016, available at http://www.edcentral.org/bilingual-teacher-shortages/.
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- Personal communication from Kirk Sykes, principal in Baltimore County Public Schools and TeachStrong ambassador, March 5, 2016.
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