Transcript of the episode “Recruiting teachers of color: What works”

[00:00:15] Amy H-L: I’m Amy Helpern-Laff. 

[00:00:16] Jon M: And I’m Jon Moscow. Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guest today is Elizabeth Steiner, policy researcher at the RAND Corporation with expertise in education policy, policy analysis, program evaluation, and qualitative methods and analysis. Ms. Steiner is an affiliate faculty member at the Pardee RAND Graduate School Faculty. Welcome, Elizabeth. 

[00:00:39] Elizabeth S: Thank you so much. Glad to be here. 

[00:00:42] Amy H-L: You recently issued a report on Strategies to Diversify the K-12 teaching workforce as part of RAND’s State of the American Teacher 2022 project. What is diversifying the teacher workforce, and why is it so important? 

[00:01:01] Elizabeth S: Yeah, thank you. The teacher workforce, by which I mean the public school K-12 teacher workforce, is not as racially and ethnically diverse as the students that those teachers serve. So to put a sense of scale on it, about 20% of public school K-12 teachers identify as people of color compared to just over 50% of students. And the reason this is important is that diverse teaching workforce has benefits for all students for their academic achievement and social and emotional development, but it has particularly positive benefits for students who are students of color themselves, Black and Hispanic students in particular.

[00:01:47] Jon M: I understand that you solicited responses both from teachers of color and from a panel of researchers, policy makers, and practitioners. What were the top recruitment strategies that were endorsed by the teachers and the panelists? 

[00:02:01] Elizabeth S: Yep, that’s right. So we conducted a nationally representative survey of public school K-12 teachers using RAND’s American Teacher Panel. We did the survey in January of 2022, and we were able, using the panel, to over sample teachers who identified as people of color as a group, and also to over sample teachers who identified as Black or African American or as Hispanic. And so we were able to separate their responses out from teachers of other races and ethnicities, and we’re able to make good inferences and good, have a good understanding of the experiences of teachers who identify those groups as a whole.

We also convened a panel of experts, 14 experts, policy makers, researchers, and practitioners to ask them about the same policies for recruitment, retention, and hiring that we asked teachers of color, get their responses on what policies each group thought would be most effective for recruiting, hiring, and retaining teachers of color.

For the most part, there were, there was a lot of agreement between the two groups, but there were some differences. So overall, the strategy most endorsed by teachers was raising pay. Teachers of color believed that the best for hiring, recruitment and retention strategy for teachers of color was increasing pay. That was followed by expanding student loan forgiveness or service scholarships, so another strategy to provide some financial support for teachers. And third, followed closely by strategies related to licensure or certification reciprocity across state. So allowing a teacher with a license, say, in New York to teach perhaps in Connecticut or Pennsylvania without having to acquire a new license or certification, and partnering with local teacher preparation programs with racially diverse candidates.

Our panelists also endorsed loan forgiveness and payment assistance as potentially effective recruitment and retention strategies, and that that was in accordance with teachers’ preferences as well.

One difference is that panelists thought that grow your own programs would be an effective way to recruit more teachers of color into the teaching profession and grow your own programs take a lot of different forms. They exist in almost every state in the country and in many districts. Some are state sponsored, some are district sponsored, but they tend to be partnerships in which a district often works with a certification program or a local university, or sometimes provides certification themselves to help bring people who are already employed, or sometimes high school students who are generally people of color into the profession by providing them with a way to work and earn a salary, as well as earn their certification as a teacher.

[00:04:50] Amy H-L: Taking a step back, why is it so important for students of color to have teachers of color? 

[00:04:59] Elizabeth S: Yeah, it’s critical. I think there’s a great deal of academic research evidence that suggests that all students, students of any race or ethnicity, benefit from a diverse teaching workforce, but for students of color, those benefits are, are greater. There’s evidence that students of color, when they have a teacher who is themselves a person of color, that they have better academic achievement, particularly in math, and that their social and emotional development is also enhanced.

[00:05:28] Jon M: We talk about people of color, which is obviously a huge group of people, and I’m just curious, both in terms of when you’re talking about the diversity of the workforce, and also in terms of the beneficial effects on students of color. What do you find in terms of whether is it particularly important for, say, Black students to have Black teachers or let’s say Latiné students to have Latiné teachers? 

[00:05:58] Elizabeth S: Yeah, there is some evidence that if a student has a teacher who is of the same race or ethnicity as they are, that there are academic and social and emotional benefits of having that teacher.

[00:06:13] Jon M: You had offered, when we were talking the other day about the report, that you’d share some vignettes of strategies that may be successful in recruiting teachers of color. Could you talk about them a little? 

[00:06:29] Elizabeth S: Sure. So in our report we highlighted examples of three different policies that illustrate some of the things that teachers and panelists thought that– thought would be effective for hiring, recruiting, and retaining teachers of color. These were examples that our panelists brought up or that we found through our own knowledge of the field. 

One of those is the Connecticut Higher Education Supplemental Loan Authority Alliance District Teacher Loan Subsidy Program. And that’s a very long name for a new program run by the state of Connecticut to subsidize teachers’ private student loans if they work in any of Connecticut’s alliance school districts. And alliance district schools in Connecticut are districts that serve large proportions of students of color and large proportions of students in poverty. They’re districts that have a need for teaching staff. And so as long as a teacher serves in one of those schools, they are eligible for– for subsidies to help pay off their student loans. This program is, is only eligible for private loans and not for federal loans, so it’s a supplement rather than a replacement for the federal program that President Biden has just proposed. And we included this example in the report as an illustration of one thing that a state is currently doing to try to address the financial burden that teachers of color feel is on their shoulders as teachers, to try to make the profession more sustainable, more affordable, and more attractive.

[00:08:00] Amy H-L: What did you find about principal training and recruiting, hiring, and retaining a diverse workforce? 

[00:08:07] Elizabeth S: That I think is a really, is one of our very interesting findings that hasn’t gotten a ton of attention just yet. And we learned a couple of interesting things. We learned from a companion survey of principals through our State of the American Principal study that a lot of principals say that they use two buckets of things. One is that principals tend to use social networks as a primary tool to recruit and hire teachers of color in their schools. And another is that emphasis on creating and cultivating and hiring a racially and ethnically diverse workforce is not something that principals say they have a lot of training to do. So in the first instance, we asked an open ended survey question of principals, , what are the strategies that you use to create a diverse workforce in your school? And a very common response was, I use social networks, I use the teachers who are people of color in my school. I myself am a person of color. I use my social networks to try to attract applicants to my school and and then to hire. And while that can be a very effective strategy, if one lives in a very diverse place, it has its limitations. If one does not live in an area that is racially or ethnically diverse, it’s also a strategy that should, I think, be supplemented with other approaches. In other words, it should not be the only thing that a school is doing to try to recruit, hire, and retain a racially and ethnically diverse workforce because it can be a very subjective and exclusive process. And so when we heard that principals also had not received a lot of training either in their pre-service preparation or in their in-service preparation programs to focus on hiring and retaining a diverse workforce, that seems like an area that is ripe for further emphasis, both in principal preparation programs and in district professional development. That if districts, prioritize this in their training, that it is something principals feel, feel the need of in their own work. 

[00:10:11] Amy H-L: Could you explain what you mean by it could be an exclusive process?

[00:10:17] Elizabeth S: Yeah, so some of the research evidence around using social networks to hire staff is that it can privilege white people, and that is counter to the goal of racial and ethnic diversity in a workforce. So we suggest in our report that while social networks can be a particularly powerful tool, for recruitment and hiring, that it is not the only thing that principals rely on to recruit and hire teachers.

[00:10:47] Jon M: Many years ago, I worked for Tony Alvarado in New York City and he phrased the same thing in a different way. He said people tend to hire their friends, and if most of your friends, or most of the people that are in your social circle in one way or another are white, that’s whom you’re gonna tend to hire.

The State of American Teacher Project also looked at job satisfaction and morale among both teachers of color and the overall teacher workforce. What did you find about when you asked whether the teachers found the stress of the job worth it? 

[00:11:25] Elizabeth S: Yeah. We asked a series of questions of teachers and principals both, about their wellbeing. So we asked about five different things. We asked about the frequency with which they experienced job related stress. We asked about their ability to cope with that job related stress. We asked if they experienced symptoms of depression. We asked if they experienced burnout. And we asked how resilient they felt to stressful events. We also were able to compare teachers’ and principals’ responses to those of working adults nationally, using another survey tool of RAND called the American Life Panel, in which we were able to survey people who are adults and are employed. So just to get an external point of comparison for how teachers are faring when it comes to their wellbeing, and principals as well. And we found that about three quarters of teachers and about 80% of principals, so about 75% of teachers, and about 84% of principals said that they were experiencing frequent job related stress. And this was in comparison to only about 35% of working adults generally. So almost twice as many teachers and principals said they experienced frequent job related stress as other working adults. This is true for the second year in a row. And it’s really not a surprising finding when one considers all of the stressors of the last two, two and a half years over the course of the pandemic. But more broadly, we found that teachers and principals fared worse on all of the aspects of wellbeing that we asked about. 

Teachers and principals of color, excuse me, teachers of color, fared worse on a couple of those indicators. They were more likely to say that they experienced symptoms of depression than their white colleagues, and Hispanic teachers were more likely to report poor wellbeing on a variety of indicators than were teachers of other races and ethnicities. 

[00:13:14] Amy H-L: And was that true pre pandemic as well? 

[00:13:17] Elizabeth S: Unfortunately, I don’t know. We don’t know the answer to that. These questions were only asked for the first time in January of 2021, and so I don’t have an explicit pre pandemic comparison point for the responses of teachers of color. Other survey work done before the pandemic suggests that burnout has increased for teachers of all races and ethnicities and for principals, and that feelings of frequent stress on the job have have increased somewhat as well. The researcher in me is saying the comparison isn’t perfect, but it does seem that the job has gotten more stressful since the pandemic. 

[00:13:53] Amy H-L: Can you give us some examples of teacher’s responses to environments that they find and experience as unsupportive or oppressive? Did that come up in the questions that you asked?

[00:14:05] Elizabeth S: Yes, it did. In addition to the survey data we collected, we also interviewed 60 teachers across the country. Those teachers were drawn from our survey respondents. Two-thirds of those teachers, or 40 of the 60, were themselves people of color. We asked in those interviews a whole series of questions, some of which were about wellbeing, some of which were about job satisfaction and some were about their experiences as a person of however they identified, people of either race or ethnicity in their particular context. And when it comes to wellbeing, the teachers we spoke to talked a lot about the stressors of the pandemic era that they were experiencing. 

They talked in particular about the need to enforce mask mandates and about the whiplash they experienced when schools were trying to figure out how and whether to remain open or whether to close if covid cases were high in the area, if students or teachers were exposed. I talked a lot about staffing issues and that being a particular source of stress. As context, keep in mind that the survey was administered in January of 2022, which seems like a long time ago now, but it was when the Omicron variant was surging and cases were high nationally. Hospitalizations were also high. And while many people might have started to think the pandemic was over, this still impacted schools, which were trying really hard to reduce transmission and to follow CDC guidelines. So teachers told us stories about their colleagues being sick, their colleagues calling off because they had to care for sick family members, substitute teachers being in short supply and schools bouncing back and forth between hybrid teaching environments and in-person teaching environments, and just the sheer pressure for principals of having to staff in that kind of environment and for teachers having to cover classes of students that they didn’t know and subjects that they didn’t teach, some of whom might have been at home learning remotely, some of whom might have been in person learning with them. Teachers talked about experiencing class sizes double that which they usually taught.

We talked to one math teacher who said that a social studies class had been in his math section for an entire week, and he had 50 students instead of 30, and half of them were supposed to be in a class that wasn’t his subject area. And that was extremely stressful, not only because they were worrying about sick colleagues, but because of all of the scrambling that had to be done to ensure that students were properly supervised if, if not actually learning.

[00:16:38] Amy H-L: So during this stressful period, do you know of teachers who asked for and received the kinds of support they needed? 

[00:16:46] Elizabeth S: Yes, we did hear stories from teachers of working in very supportive environments and we heard stories from teachers who did not. On the positive side, teachers talked about their colleagues being an important source of support, both in terms of being like a coping mechanism, how you vent to your colleagues and it helps you get the weight of the day off your chest. Teachers said that they did that too, but also in this particularly stressful staffing environment, when there was a feeling of camaraderie, when there was a feeling of togetherness, when there was a feeling of, we’re all in this together and we’re all gonna do what we can to help each other, that environment was something that teachers found to be supportive and positive. 

[00:17:25] Amy H-L: That’s great. Aside from actually resigning, how might teachers respond to low morale? 

[00:17:36] Elizabeth S: Yeah, the– the poor wellbeing that we hear teachers expressing in our survey is important for a lot of reasons. One is that people who don’t have good wellbeing are less engaged in their jobs. For teachers in particular, that could mean that they are not designing challenging lessons for students. It could mean that they’re not giving good feedback to students. They’re not doing all they can to help students learn, and they’re doing that to protect themselves. But it has implications for students. Teachers who are experiencing poor wellbeing tend to be absent more often. They might be more likely to leave their jobs. And all of these things combine into effects that are not good for the adult personally and also have have deleterious effects for students. 

[00:18:25] Jon M: I think you’ve mentioned also that they’re likely to not encourage other people to want to go into teaching, which can also not help with recruiting.

[00:18:37] Elizabeth S: That’s certainly a possibility. The media coverage over the past year and a half, two years has certainly been on the stressful aspects of the teaching profession. Our work has certainly contributed to identifying that as a problem that needs to be addressed. 

But I guess I have two things to add to that, and one is even though many teachers say that they are very, very stressed, most of them say they’re coping pretty well with that job related stress. Even those who are experiencing frequent job related stress, most of those teachers say they’re coping pretty well with it. Their colleagues are a part of the reason they’re coping well. Their passion for the profession is part of the reason they’re coping well. Just because teachers are saying that they’re experiencing difficult conditions or they might be dissatisfied with their job, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t want to teach and they don’t find joy in their work. Many teachers said that they do. We heard from one teacher who said that it’s not– not the act of teaching that is making things so stressful. It’s all of the stuff that’s going on around us. COVID, the political environment, the need to figure out how to navigate all of that are the things that are causing teachers a lot of stress. So I think what we’re trying to highlight is that it is important for policy makers and leaders to try to do what they can to make some of these working conditions better so the teachers can do better at their jobs.

And I think our work has helped uncover some strategies that we would suggest that districts and leaders consider to try to improve teacher wellbeing. 

[00:20:03] Jon M: What would be some of those strategies? 

[00:20:06] Elizabeth S: Yeah, I think one important one is to foster positive adult relationships within a school community. And it sounds like kind of a no-brainer. And I think it’s something that many schools, many school leaders, many district leaders already spend a great deal of time trying to do. So I don’t want to say that nobody is doing it, because I think many people are, but I think what we want to emphasize is that it shouldn’t fall to the wayside. It should be yes and. It should be this is important as well as this. And even though that may add to the list of things to do, I think it’s an essential ingredient to pandemic recovery. We also suggest that teachers and school leaders try to make an effort to understand the particular experiences and needs of the teachers in their schools. It could, these conditions. Conditions vary locally. Schooling is local. Working conditions are very local. It could vary within school. It could vary across schools in the district. And so in order to know the things that will make the most difference to your teaching staff ask them and then try to do something about it. 

We also suggested that district leaders try to communicate the mental health and wellbeing supports that are available to their staff. We did ask teachers and principals what supports were available, and although most said that they had something available, large minorities, about a third of teachers, about 35% of teachers, and about 20% of principals, said that they didn’t have any mental health supports available or that they didn’t know, which suggests that re-upping communications about those resources could be useful and helpful, provided that those supports are things that teachers and principals actually need and want and don’t feel like an additional compliance activity or they don’t feel superficial, they feel like something that’s actually useful. 

We heard some stories. We heard a couple of stories from teachers about how their school was making an effort to center teacher wellness, but didn’t do so in a way that was actually helpful. Like they scheduled programs that teachers wanted to participate in, but that began an hour or an hour and a half after the end of the school., which this teacher said wasn’t convenient. She said she had her own family to get home to you. She had to go pick up her kids from school. She couldn’t stay until 4:00 or 4:30 to attend this program, even if she would’ve found some benefit from it.

[00:22:26] Jon M: We know that in the private corporate world, a lot of efforts are being made to try to reduce bias factors in hiring practices. Do you find that school districts are doing the same thing, and is this something that the people you spoke to thought would be effective? 

[00:22:46] Elizabeth S: Yeah, that’s a great question. About half of our panelists, our practitioner researcher panelists, said that requiring training for school hiring teams about anti-bias hiring practices could be an effective way to recruit, hire, and retain teachers of color. Only about a quarter of teachers of color thought that it would be an effective practice. 

Antibias hiring practices can take a range of forms, but they generally focus on ways to reduce explicit and implicit bias when hiring, and they often focus on emphasizing the value that teachers of color bring to the workplace or to the school. These practices, as I said, can take a range of forms, but can include for example, removing obvious indicators of race or ethnicity from application materials, giving equal weight to demonstrated skills and experience as one does to credentials, and trying to develop hiring criteria that emphasize the value of lived experience and real world experience as well as practical experience, and also developing job criteria and weighting those criteria before engaging in the hiring process, before actually interviewing any candidates. And the last one is particularly important because there’s evidence that suggests if you don’t wait or if you don’t prioritize your hiring criteria, sometimes people unintentionally can apply those criteria differently to different people, depending on their gender, their race, their ethnicity, or other identity characteristics. 

To take the example, say a male and a female who are applying for a job. Both are parents and they both, and the hiring manager has dedication to community and family being an important hiring criterion. They might look at the female candidate and say, well, this person is a parent, but we worry that they are going to always be going off to take care of their kids. They look at the male candidate and they say, well, isn’t this great. The male candidate has a real dedication to family and community because he is a parent. And so those two criteria, although they’re both important for the job, are applied differently to those two people. One person is given the benefit of the doubt whereas the other person is not. And if a hiring decision were to be made there, that could be a biased application of those criteria. So trying to think about those sorts of things, helping principals develop and apply hiring criteria, could be a powerful and important lever. 

And one of the vignettes we described in our report was about the anti-bias hiring practices that the District of Columbia Public Schools is working to implement. And so this system leverages the experience of veteran teachers to interview and recommend candidates, and DCPS incorporates several anti-bias hiring practices into like a centralized screening process where they provide extensive anti-bias interview training to the teachers who conduct these interviews. This training attempts to minimize some of the explicit biases that people might bring, as well as some of the implicit biases, along the lines of those I just talked about. 

Second, the district hosts events to assist teacher candidates of color throughout the hiring process to give them the support they need to be strong and successful applicants. So things like an application writing workshop or preparation for the practice exam. So these strategies, combined with others. They’re trying to minimize bias in hiring practices as well as create a stronger and more diverse teaching workplace. 

[00:26:24] Jon M: Thank you. Elizabeth Steiner of the RAND Corporation and the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

[00:26:31] Elizabeth S: Thank you both so very much. Pleasure to be here.

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