Walsh: New Study of 1,200 Teacher Preparation Programs Shows Academic Selectivity and Diversity Can Go Hand in Hand

National Council on Teacher Quality

The COVID crisis has put educational inequities into stark relief. With vaccines becoming more available and schools reopening, education leaders at every level face the monumental and urgent challenge of helping children overcome the instructional loss they’ve experienced over the past year.

Luckily, there’s a proven resource for helping students to learn and thrive: high-quality teachers. What characterizes a high-quality teacher workforce? Among the many sets of knowledge and skills that great educators possess, a teacher workforce that benefits all students is both racially diverse and academically selective.

Peer-reviewed research has made it clear that a diverse teacher workforce benefits all students, but it has a profound impact on Black students when they see teachers who look like them. This research has found that having same-race teachers increases academic achievement, improves the likelihood of graduating high school and attending college, and can lead to lifelong benefits for students of color. In a public school system where students of color are now the majority and yet fewer than 25 percent of teachers identify as people of color, increasing diversity is a crucial step to improving student outcomes.

Research also shows that teachers who were themselves strong students are more likely to be effective teachers than those who were not. Greater selectivity in admissions to teacher preparation programs provides students with access to the highest-quality educators, helps to raise the status of the profession and supports the push for higher salaries.

Unfortunately, the twin goals of increasing racial diversity and academic selectivity for the teaching profession have sometimes been viewed as competing aims, despite evidence to the contrary. Now, new data from the National Council on Teacher Quality sets out to dispel this myth once and for all.

NCTQ looked at how more than 1,200 prep programs contribute to teacher diversity in their communities by comparing the racial diversity of their enrollment to the current diversity of their state teacher workforce, as well as the community population in which the program is located. Programs enrolling cohorts of future teachers that match or exceed the diversity of their current state teacher workforce and/or the diversity of their local community population were considered to be contributing to greater teacher diversity. (See the full methodology and scoring rubric here.)

We also looked at the selectivity of program admissions. There are multiple ways for teacher preparation programs to earn high scores on NCTQ’s measure of academic selectivity, including through minimum grade-point average requirements, average cohort GPA, cohort SAT/ACT scores, minimum SAT/ACT scores, GRE/MAT scores, teaching audition requirements and Barron’s selectivity ratings. (See the full methodology and scoring rubric here.)

What we found is that racial diversity in program enrollment and academic selectivity in admissions are not mutually exclusive. Nearly three times as many programs in the sample succeed in being both diverse and selective than are neither (15.8 percent versus 5.6 percent).

In fact, of the 420 programs that contribute to greater teacher diversity in their communities, nearly half (198 programs) are doing so while ensuring that, at a minimum, most of their admitted cohort comes from the top half of the collegegoing population — proving that teacher prep programs don’t need to lower standards to achieve greater diversity. Our interactive tool (linked here) shows how programs scored in these two areas.

Along with the release of these data, several of the teacher preparation programs that are leading the way in maintaining high academic standards and enrolling racially diverse cohorts of future teachers shared their strategies and recommendations for recruiting and supporting teacher candidates of color. Here are some of their key recommendations:

  • Recognize that higher academic standards are likely to make a teaching major more attractive to many college students, including students of color.
  • Set ambitious goals around recruiting diverse teacher candidates.
  • Establish partnerships with racially diverse school districts interested in operating “grow your own” programs and with local community colleges.
  • Offer grants, scholarships or other financial support aimed at encouraging enrollment in teacher preparation programs or to ensure persistence through graduation.
  • Establish mentorship programs for teacher candidates of color.
  • Support affinity groups or clubs for teacher candidates of color and others interested in pursuing a career in education.

Students need high-quality teachers more than ever, and it is up to all of us — education advocates, federal, state and district policymakers and teacher preparation leaders — to make increasing both teacher diversity and selectivity a national priority.

Kate Walsh is president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

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