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Mountain West states lag in support for teachers of color, report finds

Teacher Abdinasser Ahmed stands at the front of classroom and points at the chalkboard, students in the foreground with their backs to the camera sit at desks watching
Brennan Linsley
Abdinasser Ahmed, a teacher at Fort Morgan Middle School, teaches a class in Fort Morgan, Colo., on Jan. 8, 2016. While many states advocate for teachers of color, only a few states in the U.S. set public goals for increasing racial diversity, according to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

A new report shows that some Mountain West states are not doing well when it comes to the support and retention of teachers of color.

The National Council on Teacher Quality’s report examines policies and practices to increase racial and ethnic diversity of teachers. The council looked at four key factors: incentives, policies supporting retention, the future teacher pipeline, and goal-setting.

“Given the research base on the importance of teachers of color and their positive impact on students, we felt it was really important to consider how states are approaching ensuring that there's a diverse workforce for all of their students,” said Heather Peske, president of the council.

The report, released this month, found that some states are doing well. Twenty-three states – including Colorado, Montana and Wyoming from the Mountain West – have policies to create teacher apprenticeships in an effort to “prepare teachers and attract candidates of color,” the report said.

Additionally, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah collect diversity data about their teachers and publish it.

Peske said she often features Colorado as a strong leader.

“Colorado has done so much work to build a pipeline of future teachers and to build robust data systems that actually keep track of teacher diversity,” she said. “And they published this data on teacher diversity.”

However, the report also found that while many states may advocate for teachers of color, only seven set public goals for increasing racial diversity. None of those states are in the Mountain West.

“[That’s] a key place that state policymakers could begin, in setting goals and then tracking the data to see what kind of progress they're making towards the goal of diversifying their teacher workforce,” Peske said.

Additionally, while 36 states – including Colorado, Nevada and Utah – have initiatives to support the retention of teachers in general, no Mountain West state has an initiative focused on retaining teachers of color.

For instance, Peske shared that six states have funding for teacher residencies, but only Louisiana, Mississippi and New York use the residencies for diversity efforts.

“We see that states have created a variety of pathways to bring new teachers into teaching and to prepare them,” Peske said, “but states are rarely using these new pathways to explicitly attract teachers of color.”

Along with that, most Mountain West states – particularly Idaho – had a big gap when comparing the percentages of teachers of color to students of color. Four percent of Idaho’s teachers are teachers of color while 26% of students are students of color.

Teacher diversity has a positive academic and emotional impact on all students, but especially benefits students of color, Peske argues. A 2018 National Bureau of Economic Research report found that if a Black student had one Black teacher before 3rd grade, the student was 13% more likely to enroll in college. If the student had two Black teachers, the likelihood jumped by 32%.

“We know that teachers of color are more likely to have high expectations for students of color and more likely to create classrooms where students feel like they belong,” Peske said. “They're also very likely to serve as role models for students of color.”

Peske recommends that states focus on setting numeric goals for teacher diversity and report on progress toward that goal, as it has seen results in some states. The report also recommends that states commit funding to racial equity in school, as well as contribute to solutions like financial incentives and teacher residencies.

“I look forward to continuing to see progress there and hope that they continue to invest in their teacher workforce and particularly in their teachers of color,” she said.

This report is the first of its kind from the National Council on Teacher Quality. The organization plans to re-evaluate the data in the future.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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