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Town hall explores ways to diversify teaching workforce

Diversifying the nation's teaching workforce is vitally important for all of our public school students, particularly those minority youngsters who need to be exposed to more teachers of color. That was the core message arising from the April 18 educational town hall meeting, "Diversifying the Nation's Teacher Workforce," co-sponsored by the AFT and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. The meeting examined the recruitment and retention of minority teachers, as well as ways to effectively train teachers of all backgrounds to serve diverse classrooms.

Held on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., the discussion featured a panel that included Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union and an AFT vice president; David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans; and Ivory Toldson, a senior research analyst with the CBCF and a professor at Howard.

Marietta English at Diversity Town Hall Meeting, 4/2013

The AFT Teacher Preparation Task Force has recently released "Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession," which calls for rigorous and multiple mechanisms for assessing teachers to achieve a high-quality, diverse teaching force.

AFT president Randi Weingarten, who offered welcoming remarks at the town hall, said she is "sick and tired" of those who suggest you can't prioritize both teacher quality and teacher diversity. "Quality in terms of education instruction is very, very important," she stressed, and "diversity in terms of education instruction is also very, very important."

Weingarten noted that, as president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, one of her goals was to diversify the teacher workforce. "I feel really strongly about this," she said. That is why "I supported career ladder programs and incentives" designed to achieve that end.

Nearly 80 percent of our country's more than 6 million teachers are white, and 77 percent are female. Yet, at the same time, an increasing number of our nation's school districts are predominantly black and Latino. Many people believe that diversifying the teaching workforce will help boost the success of minority children at school, as well as their self-esteem. "The issue of diversity in teaching has not received nearly enough attention," English said.

Amy Wilkins, senior fellow for social justice at the College Board, said that persuading more people of color to go into teaching when there are so many other fields to choose from is the chief challenge. "We have to make teaching more attractive," she said, noting that teaching has to be able to "compete with the other professions."

The accelerated salary schedule negotiated by BTU in its last contract has significantly increased the number of applicants for teaching jobs in Baltimore, said English (pictured speaking above). However, money alone will not attract new teachers, she added. "We have to go beyond salaries, benefits and working conditions" and make sure "opportunities for professional development and collaboration with other teachers" are also part of contract negotiations.

Institutions of higher education have a pivotal role to play in both identifying future teachers and preparing them to teach in diverse settings, a point made by several of the speakers. Schools of education and other teacher preparatory programs need to offer more courses in multiculturalism and on how to teach a diverse student population, said Chance Lewis from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Urban Education Collaborative.

One premier example of a teacher recruitment program that seeks to increase diversity is the Ready to Teach program at Howard University, which focuses on bringing more African-American males into the profession. Last year, Toldson said, the program had more than 700 applicants for 80 slots. [Roger Glass/Mike Campbell photo]

April 22, 2013