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Commentary: Look to leadership to retain California’s teachers of color

Christine Chiu | February 13, 2018

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Our nation has a problem with recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, particularly teachers of color. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, while students of color make up 40 percent of the school-age population, just 17 percent of the nation’s teaching force is made up of teachers of color. What’s more, California has the nation’s largest percentage-point difference between teachers of color and students of color: While 75 percent of students in California are nonwhite, only about 35 percent of teachers are nonwhite, leaving a gap of 40 percentage points.

Research shows that a diverse teaching force has a positive impact on the achievement outcomes of all students, but especially students of color. And this has not gone unnoticed in California. In 2015, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) updated its common standards for educator preparation programs to include teacher diversity efforts. For example, programs are expected to recruit and admit diverse candidates and provide supports for their successful entry and retention in the profession. Programs are also expected to provide candidates with opportunities to work with communities of color through site-based work and clinical experiences. While California is making some improvements in the recruitment of teachers of color, the state is still suffering from high attrition rates among the demographic.

But the answer to this problem is not that complicated. When it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers of color, principals can play a significant role in establishing a school climate conducive to job satisfaction and work commitment. In fact, in 2012-2013, of minority teachers who reportedly left their position because of job dissatisfaction, 81 percent linked their decision to leave to dissatisfaction with the school’s administration.

In a 2015 study conducted by The Education Trust, teachers of color often reported feeling hired to be rule-enforcers or school disciplinarians on their campus. Teachers surveyed also often felt stereotyped and labeled by their teacher colleagues and school administration. Therefore, school leaders clearly play a crucial role in shaping a work environment that supports or hurts the retention of those teachers and, when considering strategies for retaining teachers of color within the profession, improving school leadership must not be overlooked.

As a first step, the CTC should update the California Professional Standards for Education Leaders (CPSEL) to reflect the role of administrators in retaining teachers of color, just as they updated educator preparation program standards to include diversity initiatives in 2015. The CPSEL are a set of broad policy standards that form the foundation for administrator preparation, induction, development, professional learning, and evaluation in California. Currently, the CPSEL requires leaders to “align fiscal and human resources and manage policies and contractual agreements that build a productive learning environment.” This standard should be updated and extended by adding: “that demonstrates racial equity and inclusion.”

The effective retention of teachers of color will also require an implementation plan in conjunction with the updated CPSEL proposal. The implementation plan should include an incentive for districts to provide racial equity and inclusion trainings for school leaders, either through in-house training or outsourced training; the development of a racial equity and inclusion training database on the CTC website; and a requirement that current school leaders attend racial equity and inclusion trainings for the renewal of their credentials. California officials should also redistribute and allocate $1 million of the $11.3 million in Title II federal funds provided to the CTC to support the recruitment and retention of effective educators and school leaders toward racial equity and inclusion trainings for school leaders.

The teacher-student diversity gap will only grow wider the slower we respond. This is especially true for the state of California, where the student population leads the nation in racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. And while California has made slight improvements in the recruitment of diverse teachers, greater efforts must be made to retain teachers of color as well. Training and supporting school administrators to intentionally recruit, support, and retain teachers of color is a crucial step in bridging this divide.

Christine Chiu is currently studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Previously, she taught at Broadway Mandarin Dual Immersion in Venice, California. She is also a Teach Plus Policy Fellowship alumna.

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