What Teacher Preparation Programs Can Learn from Minority-Serving Institutions

Herring: By instilling a sense of empowerment and a mission to improve education and students' lives, these schools have a much higher completion rate

This is a photo of an African American professor.

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U.S. public schools need more great teachers, but teacher preparation programs are not producing enough of them.

Minority-serving institutions, or MSIs, are one place to look in order to fix that.

A recent analysis by the Learning Policy Institute found that between 2012 and 2019, the number of prospective teachers completing their preparation programs dropped by 20%. That number recovered slightly in subsequent years, but a state-by-state analysis shows wide variations. Some states, like California and Washington have seen enrollment and completion increase in recent years. Others, like Louisiana and Texas, have seen big declines.

But In states across the country, teacher prep programs in minority-serving institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, are producing higher percentages of completers than non-MSIs.

An analysis of Title II data conducted by the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity, the organization I lead, found that between 2018 and 2022, minority-serving institutions saw the number of program completers increase by 5.5% on average, across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Meanwhile, non-MSIs saw an average 0.7% decline.

At the state level, those numbers are even more glaring. In Louisiana, completion at MSI programs rose by 6% over that time period while declining 25% at non-MSIs. In Texas, MSI completion grew by 5% while non-MSI completion dropped by 17%, while Maryland saw an increase of 10% versus a decline of 23%. In Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Puerto Rico and South Carolina, the trend was the same.

Headlines are dominated by statistics showing fluctuating and declining enrollment in educator preparation programs, teachers colleges and universities, as well as staffing shortages in schools. But enrollment is an input and staffing shortages a lagging indicator. The percentage of enrollees who actually complete their training — those who are truly prepared to stand and deliver in the classroom — is an essential data point that leaders and policymakers should pay focused attention to.

As a former HBCU school of education dean and the leader of an organization focused on supporting high-quality teacher preparation, my experience tells me MSIs are so successful at this because of their focus on student care and identity.

They, and HBCUs specifically, have seen enrollment increases in recent years. Much of this can be attributed to the political volatility around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion as well as the Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down affirmative action in college admissions. In response, Black and brown young people are actively seeking places where they can pursue their education in ways that are empowering and culturally affirming. 

Within MSIs, students are increasingly looking to pathways that enable them to positively impact their communities and students back home. Teaching is rightly viewed by Black and brown educators as a primary means of doing exactly that. A study by Donors Choose and the Center for Black Educator Development found that teachers of color — the majority of whom received their education from MSIs — are far more likely than their white counterparts to see teaching as a path to “affirm the racial and ethnic identity of students of color.”

Aspiring teachers at MSIs, then, are engaged in an effort to build something better, to be the transformational teacher that either they were fortunate enough to have or perhaps never had themselves. They see that the route to making change in the public education system is to be part of it: to become educators and improve the system from the inside.

They see themselves as the carriers of the torch, the tellers of a necessary story to foster the development of a sense of agency and a positive cultural identity in students who grew up in circumstances similar to their own. And they learn to do this at schools whose very existence is premised on the belief that their identity is valuable and demands care. 

It is that culture of care, combined with that spirit of possibility and change-making, that has enabled MSI educator preparation programs to excel amid broader declines. These are features of teacher preparation that can exist beyond MSI campuses. Non-MSIs can and should work to create a similar culture of care for their aspiring educators. That means ensuring their preparation program instills a positive sense of their own identity — who teachers are and where they are from can be valuable assets in their vocation. And it means their experience in teacher prep inspires them to work as builders of community and agents of progress in the public schools for the benefit of all students.

Public schools need teachers who are well prepared to deliver the high-quality learning required for a rapidly changing world and who have the cultural competency to teach the full diversity of America’s students.

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