Numerous studies show black and Latino students do better in school when their teachers look like them, but across the country and in California, most teachers are white.
A new $8.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to the California State University will fund efforts to prepare more Latinos to become teachers.
The money aims to give the state’s largest student demographic group more opportunities to learn from a Latino or Hispanic teacher.
Three CSU campuses — Sacramento, Long Beach and Sonoma State University — will each receive roughly $2.7 million over a five-year period.
“There’s incredible value added” from the grant, said Shireen Pavri, dean of the College of Education at CSU Long Beach. “There’s a strong outreach component to bring in new students who we probably would not have brought.” Pavri said the grant will allow for more recruitment of teacher candidates at high schools and community colleges.
With roughly 6,800 annual graduates, the CSU system produces more teachers in California than all other institutions combined. The federal grant money will help the campuses develop strategies to attract more Latino candidates for teaching careers and provide the candidates with social and professional services that give them both a sense of community and greater hands-on training in the classroom. The grant will also pay for developing data-keeping systems to track the progress of student-teachers.
In 2014-15, two-thirds of California’s teachers were white and a fifth were Hispanic, according to state data. That’s an inversion of the state’s student population, which is 54 percent Hispanic and 25 percent white.
“There’s a growing body of research that shows the congruence between teachers and students on race, ethnicity and even gender appears to help students,” said Thomas S. Dee, a professor of education at Stanford and director of the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis.
He said there are several factors that contribute to students performing better when taught by teachers of similar backgrounds. “Teachers may exhibit unconscious biases that influence student learning,” he said, meaning that white teachers may instinctively discipline or second-guess black and Latino students differently than white students. Dee also cited stereotype threat — the phenomenon of individuals performing poorly because they feel pressure to disprove the stereotypes about them — as another reason some students may do worse when taught by white teachers.
Students may also be motivated to perform better because they’re likelier to view teachers who look like them as role models. “Such representation could increase the cultural value students place on academic success,” according to a Brookings Institution summary of education research.
But while Dee said he “applaud[s] the effort to promote teacher diversity,” he worries the focus may draw attention from other important aspects of teacher training. “We have such a majority-white teaching workforce,” he said. “We don’t want to lose sight of the imperative to help white teachers be effective with under-represented students.”
Some observers of the teacher pipeline say racism among teachers harms students. In an essay by Andre Perry, the former teacher college dean wrote that “Extolling the need for more black teachers is not the same as demanding white teachers be less racist.”
Other studies suggest that while white teachers are more likely than black teachers to view black students in a negative light, no discernible differences were found for Latino students taught by Latino teachers.
Part of the challenge facing California in recruiting Latino teachers is that a smaller share of Latinos enter and complete college than do whites or and blacks. A report out today from Georgetown University shows that 12 percent of the state’s Latino workforce has a bachelor’s or higher, compared to 24 percent for blacks and 43 percent for whites.
Still, CSU’s teacher programs enroll a large number of Latino students. According to data from CSU, nearly a third of the system’s teacher credential candidates are “Hispanic/Latinos.” Roughly 10 percent are Asian-American and around 2 percent are African-Americans. Those figures are slightly higher for the system’s doctoral programs in educational leadership.
The CSU grants are funded by the Title V Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions section of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 — the chief federal higher education law in the U.S. The money for the grants will expire September 30, 2022.
Elsewhere on the California teacher recruitment front, a new organization called the California Center on Teaching Careers is using $9.4 million in money approved by state lawmakers in July to attract new teachers in rural schools as well as in the fields of math and science, English-language learners and special education — areas that are particularly in need of teachers.
“This year more than 155,000 students in California’s public schools are being taught by adults with no sure evidence of being trained to teach,” said Jim Vidak, Tulare County Superintendent of Schools, in a statement. The county helped to create the California Center. “This data is concerning to us, as administrators and as parents, and we look forward to the Center’s focus on not only recruiting new teachers, but also ensuring they are empowered with high-quality educational opportunities and training.”