Increasing Diversity Among Teachers, with an Emphasis on STEM Subjects

A Look into Evidence-Based Recruitment and Retention Strategies

By Vince Stewart

December 9, 2020

Qualified, engaged teachers are critical for all students, but especially for students who face systemic barriers – such as racism, poverty, immigration threats, and community violence – to achieving their full potential. Yet, California is facing a serious teacher shortage, which is fueled in part by a dearth of applicants, as well as the unevenness of teacher preparation programs. The result is inequities in instructional quality that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families. For example, schools with higher numbers of students in poverty and students of color have more vacant teaching positions, as well as more teachers with substandard credentials. In addition, California ranks 50th in the country in its ratio of teachers to students (23:1), which is a key factor in education quality.

As reported by EdSource in June 2019, “enrollments in teacher preparation programs… just aren’t high enough to put fully prepared teachers in classrooms to educate all 6 million of the state’s public-school students.” According to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, in 2016-17, California issued 16,518 new full teaching credentials. But over the past two years the number of new teaching credentials flattened out and, in concert with retirements and other transitions, do not come close to meeting the state’s need for new teachers – estimated at 24,000 new teachers each year.

California has made significant investments in programs over the last several years to address the chronic teacher shortage and need for additional training of the current teaching workforce. In large measure, this funding also was intended to help implement science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education policies like the Common Core State Standards in Math and the Next Generation Science Standards. However, these were almost entirely one-time augmentations in funding. The absence of ongoing, additional dollars represents a significant shortcoming of these efforts to recruit, prepare and retain new teachers.

To bridge the gap, school districts increasingly hire teachers with “intern-credentials” who have only a few weeks of training before they are given their own classrooms while they earn their full credential; and “short-term staff” and “provisional internship” permit holders, who are not required to have any teacher training. The Learning Policy Institute estimates that teachers on “emergency style” permits are three times as likely to teach in California’s schools with high populations of students of color and twice as likely to teach in a high-poverty schools as in more advantaged schools. Moreover, teachers trained as interns tend to turn over faster, so the problem persists, and we find ourselves in a cycle year-after-year with school districts always needing more interns.

Research indicates that teacher qualifications are the most important school-related predictor of student achievement. However, the state’s math and science assessments revealed that students, particularly Black and Latinx, continue to lag their white and Asian peers in meeting or exceeding state math and science standards. In order to halt, and eventually reverse this troubling trend, the State must work on improving the quality and increasing the diversity of current and future teachers, with a particular emphasis on elementary and middle school teachers.

Over the years, California has focused on and invested in myriad teacher pipeline/retention strategies. However, it is important to note that some of these strategies were only partially implemented and/or funded, so it’s difficult to assess whether or not they achieved their desired impact. However well-intended these efforts have been, with few exceptions, they have not been sufficiently documented to gauge efficacy.

Moving forward, the State needs to scale and sustain teacher recruitment and retention, by making continued or new investments in programs that are evidence-based and proven effective. In support of this goal, and to provide policymakers with a series of recommendations, Children Now is engaging in research to determine which initiatives show considerable promise based on data that either points to specific outcomes or promising trends, in the case of newer programs.

While safely reopening schools is critical for students and an immediate priority for state leaders, we cannot overlook the importance of ensuring that investments are made to recruit, prepare and retain qualified, diverse teachers. As we emerge from this pandemic, teachers will be crucial to addressing the damaging learning loss endured by millions of California children.