The University of Washington College of Education’s work to create a more just future for all young people is getting a boost from a recent $6 million gift to diversify the educator workforce — the foundational gift in the College’s $26 million strategic initiative to attract more teachers of color and those who are multilingual into the profession.
The gift will expand financial support for and recruitment of teacher candidates from diverse backgrounds. In addition, the gift provides professional learning and other supports to enhance retention in the teaching workforce, as well as the evaluation and dissemination of key learnings to aid efforts across the nation to boost the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of teachers entering the profession.
“Students thrive when they see themselves in and can relate to their teachers,” said Dean Mia Tuan. “To help all students achieve their fullest potential, we need to invest in systems that support and empower the teachers who serve them.”
Exposure to even one teacher of the same race can significantly improve the odds a student of color will be placed in a gifted education program, graduate from high school and/or attend college, research shows. Yet in Washington state, where nearly half of K-12 students are people of color, only 11% of teachers are people of color.
Removing the financial barriers that prevent many people of color from entering the profession is an essential first step, Tuan noted, as people of color graduate from college with significantly more debt than their white peers. That can make the decision to enter a modestly compensated profession, like public education, a daunting prospect even to those who feel the call to teach.
The power of removing financial barriers can be seen in programs such as the Seattle Teacher Residency, a partnership between the UW College of Education, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Education Association and Alliance for Education which covers the tuition of teacher candidates in return for a commitment to serve in the district. More than 75% of residents are people of color.
“Our students and their families have been clear — representation matters in our classrooms,” said Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau. “That’s why a racially diverse and culturally responsive workforce is a key priority of Seattle Public Schools.
“Our district is fortunate to have The Academy of Rising Educators and Seattle Teacher Residency — partnership programs designed to recruit, support and retain educators of color. We must bring these types of programs to scale in our region if we want to truly transform the teaching profession and ensure success for all children.”
The gift will provide broad financial support – including tuition assistance, textbooks and more — to aspiring teachers from diverse backgrounds, including the creation of an endowed fund to provide financial support for diverse teacher candidates in perpetuity. The gift also will provide for two additional staff members in the College’s teacher education program to support recruitment and retention of diverse candidates.
And the supports won’t stop at graduation.
“Recruitment and preparation of educators of color is only the beginning,” said Teddi Beam-Conroy, director of the College’sElementary Teacher Education Program, who pointed to research showing that investing in new teachers’ professional learning and growth in their first few years is essential to teacher retention.
“We have to work in partnership with local schools, districts and community organizations to support our graduates who may be one of a few — or perhaps the only — teacher of color in their buildings,” Beam-Conroy said. “Investing in their development as professionals and leaders in the field is absolutely essential.”
There’s also support for the College's researchers and teacher educators as they implement and refine efforts to diversify the workforce. A key goal is to learn what is effective in recruiting and retaining diverse teachers so those learnings can be shared with other education schools.
Ultimately, the College’s $26 million initiative aims to eliminate financial barriers encountered by diverse candidates by offsetting tuition and other expenses for about 55 teacher candidates each year, in return for a commitment to teach in under-resourced local schools. The initiative also will ensure continuing support for recruitment, retention, mentorship and professional development efforts.
“We know that investing in the recruitment and retention of outstanding teachers of color is a successful strategy for combating racism, but our state and society must do far more before our teaching workforce will reflect the students they serve,” Tuan said. “The sooner we do so, the closer we will be to a world where outcomes for our students of color will match their undeniable talent and potential.”