The Council of Chief State School Officers held a session on diverse teachers at the last convening and it was fascinating for to hear what is happening in some great states. Nebraska state Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt and Connecticut Commissioner Dianne Wentzell both spoke eloquently about how they are working hard to make sure they have a more diverse teaching workforce.
Their efforts revolve around looking at the barriers to entry for teaching – seeing which items are disproportionately affecting teachers of color and eliminating them. The incredible quote on what they are doing in the states – “we worked hard to eliminate a culture of NO – and starting looking at how to create a culture that says yes”.
The numbers were staggering on people who were kept out of teaching by the inputs required. I have had this discussion numerous times. People are so worried about a false positive – where someone is allowed to teach who shouldn’t – that we create hundreds or thousands of false negatives – people who should be teaching and could be great but can’t get through the myriad of hoops put in their way.
#1 Barrier – Basic skills testing – NE moved to a composite score. There was a trend a few years back to set minimums on each section – math, verbal and writing. The problem is that your math/tech majors struggle on writing and your English, foreign language, social studies struggle on math. The composite score let’s them excel in the subjects they will teach. This makes up for some of the issues on the subjects they don’t. 700 more diverse candidates would have taught in Nebraska if they had enacted this sooner with no decrease in teaching quality. CT stopped using basic skills as a barrier and used it as an indicator of areas that the person would have to work on in their training. If they had done this earlier they would have had 700 more math teachers and 1250 more science teachers.
Let that sink in – 2700 diverse candidates would have been teachers in two states if they had made basic skills testing more reasonable.
Both states streamlined their certification processes to make it less arduous to get into teaching. Connecticut actually parted ways with their head of certification because they were not getting it that they had to do things differently to achieve staffing goals. Both states have methods to look at teacher performance in the first year to ensure that by eliminating barriers to teaching they have a system of checks and balances to ensure teacher quality stays high.
Cost, hoops, testing, school assignment all adversely affect diversity in teaching and limit the supply of great teachers. We know this because a recent study showed that our program is #2 in the nation in recruiting diverse teachers with 46% non-white teachers in our program. Not because we are brilliant at diversity recruiting but because we have a low cost, streamlined program with solid support.
It is time to focus on outputs – not inputs – in teacher certification so we can ensure that every child has a great teacher and our teaching workforce more closely matches our student population.