Pilot pro­gram aims to boost teacher diver­sity

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Melissa B.Taboada mtaboada@states­man.com

When Ket­tisha Jones launched her ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion more than 20 years ago, she no­ticed there were few other African-Amer­i­can teach­ers in her co­hort.

Now, as an as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent in the Pflflugerville school district, Jones is hop­ing a new pilot pro­gram will help boost mi­nor­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tion among teacher ranks, as well as in­crease re­ten­tion in hard-to- fi­fill po­si­tions.

“We’re here to serve a di­verse group of kids that have difffffffffff­fer­ent needs,” said Jones. “We’re see­ing that stu­dents tend to per­form bet­ter when they have the op­portu- nity to at­tend classes with teach­ers who look like them. That’s some­thing we’re try­ing to do here, to di­ver­sify.

“It’s not go­ing to flflip overnight, so what con­ver­sa­tions are we go­ing to have to bring that to light?”

Both the Pflflugerville and Austin school dis­tricts are form­ing part­ner­ships with Teach for Amer­ica — a na­tional pro­gram that has sent thou­sands of col­lege grad­u­ates to teach in some of the na­tion’s high­est-need ur­ban and ru­ral schools — with goals of quelling

high teacher turnover in low-in­come schools and recruiting more teach­ers of color.

While about 65 per­cent of the stu­dents in each district are black or Latino, more than 60 per­cent of the teach­ers are white.

Grow­ing re­search points to what Jones, a Teach for Amer­ica alumna, said: Stu­dents ben­e­fit from hav­ing teach­ers with sim­i­lar eth­nic and racial back­grounds. One re­cent study pub­lished by the In­sti­tute of La­bor Eco­nom­ics and co-au­thored by a Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity econ­o­mist shows that black low-in­come stu­dents who have a black teacher for a least a year in later el­e­men­tary school years are 29 per­cent less likely to drop out of high school and more li kely to

con­sider at­tend­ing col­lege.

One in three alumni of Teach for Amer­ica is a per­son of color — and the num­ber is grow­ing; about 48 per­cent of cur­rent Teach for Amer­ica mem­bers in their first and sec­ond years are teach­ers of color.

Austin and Pflugerville will get teach­ers who al­ready spent at least two years work­ing in chal­leng­ing schools. Those teach­ers are en­ter­ing the job with the knowl­edge, cul­tural com­pe­ten­cies and sim­i­lar life ex­pe­ri­ence the dis­tricts need, said Fer­nando Med­ina, the Austin district’s chief hu­man cap­i­tal of­fi­cer.

“These teach­ers can help us fill in some gaps in the sense that they nat­u­rally bring, and have the po­ten­tial to bring in, an un­der­stand­ing of the lan­guage, the cul­ture, how stu­dents learn and how to deepen the con­nec­tion be­tween their per­sonal lives and the cur­ricu­lum and the con­tent,” he said.

“It helps us close an eq­uity gap, Med­ina said.

The pilot pro­gram in the lo­cal dis­tricts will start small, with plans to hire 10 to 15 Teach for Amer­ica teach­ers each start­ing this fall. The teach­ers will have a min­i­mum of two years’ ex­pe­ri­ence with cre­den­tials or cer­ti­fi­ca­tions in high-de­mand po­si­tions, such as bilin­gual, spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and high­level math and sciences.

Crit­ics of the pro­gram have pointed out that high per­cent­ages of Teach for Amer­ica teach­ers exit the pro­fes­sion as soon as their twoyear re­quire­ment is ful­filled. The or­ga­ni­za­tion says about one-third of its alumni are still teach­ing.

Ken Zar­i­fis, pres­i­dent of Ed­u­ca­tion Austin, the district’s largest teacher la­bor group, said that while there are high-qual­ity Teach for Amer­ica alumni in Austin’s teach­ing ranks, too many have turned it “into a turn­stile ca­reer. But it takes time to grow qual­ity teach­ers.”

Zar­i­fis said he agrees that the district must boost diver­sity and in­crease re­ten­tion among teach­ers but said the district needs a more strate­gic ap­proach.

“At the end of the day, this district could main­tain their teach­ers at a bet­ter rate if they treated them with bet­ter re­spect,” Zar­i­fis said. “Their will­ing­ness to work in these cam­puses is re­ally about re­spect. When they’re re­spected, they’re will­ing to go the ex­tra mile.”

Turnover per­sists in Austin, with the district hir­ing about 750 new teach­ers an­nu­ally. That equates to about 13 per­cent turnover an­nu­ally, but the rate is higher at high-needs schools. Med­ina said the district is re­vis­it­ing its exit sur­vey process to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of why teach­ers leave.

Mean­while, district of­fi­cials are recruiting from his­tor­i­cally black col­leges and other uni­ver­si­ties with more mi­nor­ity stu­dents. They also are try­ing to iden­tify and train stu­dents who want to be­come teach­ers or clas­si­fied work­ers such as teacher’s aides, who could move into teach­ing po­si­tions with ad­di­tional school­ing or train­ing.

The Austin and Pflugerville dis­tricts will pay the or­ga­ni­za­tion a $3,000 recruiting fee for ev­ery suc­cess­ful place­ment.

Dal­las, Fort Worth, San An­to­nio and the Rio Grande Val­ley have sim­i­lar part­ner­ships with Teach for Amer­ica, but those dis­tricts bring in the re­cruits who have no teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence yet.

“These are peo­ple who re­ally came into the pro­fes­sion to truly sup­port stu­dents who are at risk at our high­est-needs schools and have ex­pe­ri­ence with that,” Jones said. “Even though we’re in a sub­ur­ban district, we’re still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ur­ban chal­lenges. With this op­portu- nity, we’re bring­ing in tal­ent, peo­ple who are fa­mil­iar with work­ing with stu­dents with those chal­lenges.”

In 2016-17, Austin em­ployed 43 Teach for Amer­ica alumni — largely teach­ers and cam­pus ad­min­is­tra­tors, in­clud­ing 2017 Texas Teacher of the Year Allison Ash­ley, a veteran bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion el­e­men­tary teacher and in­struc­tional coach. Pflugerville em­ployed three, in­clud­ing Jones.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.