Report: ‘Stronger investments needed’ to diversify Virginia’s teacher workforce

Teachers from around the state rallied after the Virginia Education Association's Delegate Assembly in March in Richmond. Hundreds of teachers, led by a red school bus, marched near the Richmond convention center. (Mechelle Hankerson/The Virginia Mercury)

According to a new report by the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a Richmond-based liberal policy organization, diversifying Virginia’s pool of teachers could help cut dropout rates, reduce chronic absence and boost college-enrollment rates among minority students.

Virginia is one of six states that does not require teachers to report their race or ethnicity, but the Commonwealth Institute says that self-reporting indicates that white-identifying teachers make up 75% of teachers in the commonwealth despite less than half of all students identifying as white.

However, the reported noted that while “many teachers report their race voluntarily, some choose not to do so which makes it difficult to gauge the full extent of the divide between students and teachers of color in Virginia.”

The report expects that, “if the current trend continues (in 2008, 57% of students were identified as white), this discrepancy may increase as Virginia’s student population grows more diverse.”

The underrepresentation of African-American and Hispanic teachers has a serious impact on the performance of students, especially minority students. The presence of just one black teacher can decrease the likelihood that a black boy in grades 3-5 will drop out by 29%. Two black teachers can increase a K-3 black boy’s chances of going to college by 32%, according to a study by researchers at American University, Johns Hopkins, and the University of California Davis cited in the report.

In order to diversify Virginia’s educators, some state leaders are working to limit barriers for prospective teachers. For example, the report says that this year the Virginia Department of Education “awarded grant funds to assist over 300 provisionally licensed teachers of color to attain their full licensure.”

But the report says that “more systemic change is needed” in order to close the diversity gap among Virginia teachers. Other efforts to promote more people of color going into teaching include strengthening partnerships with HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Although Virginia has only 4 HBCUs with teaching programs, they have produced over half of the black teachers in Virginia.

“By investing in teacher preparation programs and partnerships at historically black colleges and universities and increasing teacher pay, Virginia can help break down the barriers that stand in the way of diversifying Virginia’s educator workforce,” the institute says,

Organizations like Call Me MISTER, The Future Teacher Academy, and the African-American Teaching Fellow could also help. In South Carolina, the Call Me MISTER initiative “is on track to double the number of black male teachers in the state since its creation,” according to the report.

Virginia only has one branch of Call Me MISTER, but the report suggests that allocating resources to similar initiatives that offer help with tuition could promote diversity among teaching students, especially since black and Hispanic students often have more college debt. Virginia teachers are still paid below the national average and well below that of other college-educated workers here, even after the recent state pay raise.

“Stronger investments in preparation programs and providing competitive wages to teachers throughout the state are needed to ensure that educators in our schools are just as diverse as their students,” the institute said.