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Recruiting and Retaining Minority Teachers: Programs That Work!

According to the National Education Association, the decline in African American and Hispanic students majoring in education is steeper than the overall decline in education majors. And minority teachers leave teaching at higher rates than white teachers do. Why do so few people of color choose teaching careers? Why do so few stay? Included: Links to programs that work!

As school enrollments continue to rise and more teachers retire, school districts across the country are valiantly trying to hire and retain enough high-quality educators to meet their needs. In increasing demand are teachers with math, science, technology, and special education backgrounds -- as well as teachers with racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds.

Outside of cities, most children will go through the school day and rarely encounter an authority figure other than one who is white. Although 40 percent of U.S. of students are from ethnically or racially diverse backgrounds -- a percentage that is projected to rise to 54 percent over the next 20 years -- just 10 percent of teachers are people of color.

Each year, the shortage of teachers becomes more acute -- and the disparity between white and minority teachers grows. Christopher Cross, former president of the Council for Basic Education and assistant secretary of education in the George H. W. Bush administration, told Education World that he estimates that unless the trend is reversed, people of color will represent just 5 percent of the teaching force in the future!

WHY IS THAT A PROBLEM?

No hard evidence proves that minority teachers enhance the educational experience of minority students, but many educators believe they do. Much as girls benefit from seeing women in authority positions, minorities benefit from seeing minorities in authority positions, according to many educators.

"Children need to see someone with whom they can identify -- someone who listens to the same music, enjoys the same foods, laughs at the same jokes, cries about the same problems, worships the same way," Evelyn Dandy, director of a minority recruitment effort at Armstrong Atlantic State University, in Savannah, Georgia, told Education World.

Actually all students benefit from a diverse teaching force, David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, told Education World. "It encourages children and adults to relate to individuals from different racial, linguistic, and economic backgrounds. That is an increasingly important basic skill in a global economy."

So why the dearth of minority teachers? Dandy explained that the obstacles to increasing the number of minority teachers include their ability to get into college and to afford to complete a college education.

Prospective teachers have to obtain a certain score on the SAT or ACT, they must pass PRAXIS I in order to enter many teacher education programs, and frequently they need to pass PRAXIS II to receive their licenses. For some, those tests can be daunting, explained Dandy.

A recent U.S. Census Bureau study found that though often poorer than their white peers, Hispanic college students are less likely to receive financial aid. Frequently, the first members of their family to go to college, they may not be aware of the existence of such aid or be knowledgeable about how to request it, explained Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities in San Antonio.

"Teaching is not well paid or well respected as a profession," Flores told Education World. "Those minorities who do go to college are in high demand from other fields that are better rewarded in society."

Today, African American and Latino students rarely choose to become teachers; the decline in minority numbers is actually steeper than the general overall decline in education enrollment! And those minorities who do become teachers leave the field at even higher rates than do whites.

"Given the desire of corporate America to diversify the workforce and the resulting opportunities for African American and Latino college graduates, we might as well express surprise that many of these individuals enter or remain in the classroom at all," assistant professor Frederick Hess from the University of Virginia told Education World.

INITIATIVES TO REDUCE THE DISPARITY

How can we reduce the disparity between U.S. teachers and the ethnic and racial demographics of the students they serve?

According to Cross, the implementation of mentor programs might help increase minority enrollment in teacher education programs. He told Education World, "Thirty percent of new teachers leave the profession within three years, but teachers who have mentors are far less apt to leave."

Dandy, Hess, Flores, and other experts suggest the implementation of several other promising initiatives that might entice more people of color into education and help keep them in the profession:

  • Review and replace culturally biased competency tests. Many experts contend that some competency tests have a cultural bias and, as a result, disproportionately eliminate minorities from passing. Replacing some of those tests with alternative assessments, such as portfolios and group projects, might increase minority teacher enrollment.
  • Aggressively recruit African American and Latino students from junior colleges for enrollment in teacher colleges.
  • Recruit mid-career professionals of diverse backgrounds to increase the pool of minority teachers.
  • Provide bonuses or other benefits to specially qualified minority teachers.
  • Groom good teachers of color for leadership positions. Many of the same steps that help retain good teachers could also help retain good minority teachers.
OUTREACH, EARLY AWARENESS, INCENTIVES ...

Other promising initiatives exist too. After noting the decline of minorities entering the field of education, Florida created the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers, and the University of South Florida (USF) offers the Metropolitan Life Scholarship.

USF faculty members Sharman McRae and Paulette Walker told Education World that through those programs and Project Thrust, a support program for undergraduate students, minorities interested in education can receive financial aid, tutoring, career counseling, and job placement assistance. During bi-weekly meetings, minority students who are considering education careers discuss resumes, appropriate dress, and interviewing techniques. At career fairs held bi-annually, school districts conduct interviews of students of color directly on campus.

McRae and Walker explained that the field of education must compete with other fields for minority students; if we are going to encourage minorities to become teachers, we need to put in this extra effort.

The University of Louisville (Kentucky), the University of South Florida (Tampa), Hunter College (the City University of New York), Antioch University (Ohio), and Ohio State University are among the other programs that actively recruit and encourage minority students into the education field. Ohio State's program selects promising minority students in grades six through eight and offers them career and cultural programs, summer institutes, tutoring, and financial aid if they do well and choose to enter OSU.

The Breakthrough Collaborative (formerly Summerbridge National) is a nonprofit organization that fosters excellence in education by starting and supporting Summerbridge programs in 25 communities across the nation and in Hong Kong. The organization selects high school students to tutor middle school students in the hopes that the experience will encourage the high schoolers to consider a teaching career. The students come from a variety of ethnic, economic, and cultural backgrounds; 87 percent are people of color.

PLACEMENT PROGRAMS

Several promising programs focus on teacher placement.

The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, which represents 275 colleges and universities with high Hispanic enrollments, offers school districts interested in recruiting Hispanic graduates advice about places to look and ways to attract them.

The National Alliance of Black School Educators and Historically Black Colleges and Universities do the same for the African-American community.

The National Teacher Recruitment Clearinghouse also tries to diversify the teaching force. The site's host, Recruiting New Teachers, conducts research and sponsors national education conferences on diversity, and the Web site provides applicants more than 1,000 links to information on teaching careers, job banks, and electronic hiring halls around the country. David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, told Education World that he believes this resource can streamline the teacher hiring process -- not just for minorities, but for all teachers.

PROGRAMS FOR CAREER CHANGERS

The Latino and Language Minority Teacher Projects at the University of Southern California aims to help language minorities enter the teaching profession. The project focuses on career changers. It provides scholarships to Latino paraprofessionals who are willing to certify in California's high-need areas.

At many universities, the Pathways to Teaching Careers program, an initiative funded by the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, recruits, selects, and trains uncertified school district personnel -- primarily minorities already in the public schools. The program provides scholarships, tutorial assistance, and books. In return, graduates pledge to teach in the local inner-city public schools for at least three years.

Evelyn Dandy, director of the Pathways program at Armstrong Atlantic State University, told Education World the programs have already helped more than 4,000 people become teachers and have a 96 percent retention rate. The graduates earn many local, state, regional, and national awards; and 33 percent were school teachers of the year.

"We screen our applicants very carefully," Dandy said. "We provide support as these mid-career changers launch a new profession. We select individuals who have roots in the community. They probably went to school in the community where they teach. They know the issues that face the children they will teach. They are not surprised by what the schools are like. They are committed to making improvements. They are motivated to improve their station in life. They change the lives of their children too," she added.

Article by Glori Chaika
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

10/12/2004



 

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