Diversifying the Teacher Workforce Through Early Pathways

Monday, June 7, 2021
Nicole Osborne
Senior Associate

A significant portion of our work at Education Strategy Group (ESG) is focused on the improvement and modernization of career pathways as drivers of economic mobility. But what about career pathways within the field of education itself? In the effort to achieve educational equity, one critical strand of work is to ensure that every student learns from a high-quality teacher — and that the teacher workforce is not only well prepared, but reflects the diversity of the students that they serve. Improving the career pathways through which individuals train to become teachers is a key way to strengthen and diversify the teacher workforce as a whole, ultimately benefiting not only teachers themselves, but all of the students they reach. And there is a significant opportunity to build early educator pathways that offer high school students an accelerated and affordable path to a bachelor’s degree that prepares them to become impactful teachers who are fluent in culturally-responsive practices and ready to improve student outcomes. 

ESG recently set out to understand the extent to which these high-quality early educator pathways are in place across the country. Do they effectively recruit students of color to the profession, support them along the way, and increase the rate at which they can earn a bachelor’s degree, thereby lowering the cost of college too? Have they begun to diversify our teaching workforce and bring into greater balance the diversity of our student population and the teachers who teach them? 

We researched more than 45 programs across states, interviewed myriad leaders within them, and attempted to trace their results with data analysis and program surveys. With billions of dollars available to education leaders at all levels through the American Rescue Plan, we believe there are several crucial investment opportunities to improve early educator pathways and strengthen our teacher workforce.  

Overwhelmingly, we found few programs focused on recruiting diverse high school students and supporting them through placement into teaching positions. Many programs across the country aim to have more diverse teachers in the pipeline, but most focus on adults who already have a degree because they can upskill quickly. In fact, alternative educator programs tend to have a higher percentage of Black teachers compared to traditional programs. It seems there is an opportunity for some of the same recruiting and training techniques deployed by alternative programs to be applied to introduce high school students of color to the profession and accelerate their pathway into teaching as well. 

However, even when programs do intentionally recruit in this manner, we found they commonly encounter a stigma sometimes associated with teaching as a barrier to the profession. All too often, administrators shared that students of color are leery of working within systems that may not have served them well and have a reputation for not paying well. At the same time, education and training pathways are one of the few programs that exist in which school systems are literally building their own talent pipeline, so there’s a tremendous advantage to be gained by overcoming this stigma barrier. 

There are bright spots within programs across the country with strong practices in place that can serve as signposts for building high-quality early educator pathways, but leaders have to stitch together relevant pieces from those programs to strengthen existing models. It is rare to find pathways that recruit high school students of color and offer them an accelerated and affordable route to teacher licensing. It is more unusual still to find those that have been established long enough to provide data on their outcomes. For example:

A number of programs across the country have made great strides in recruiting high school students of color to the teaching profession. The Center for Black Educator Development recruits students who see themselves as young scholars and future educators who are serious about intellectual development, social change, and civic leadership, honing in on those with a penchant toward activism.

Dual enrollment plays a prominent role in early educator pathways as an effective strategy to accelerate students’ time to a bachelor’s degree. In Texas, the state requires early college high school (ECHS) student bodies to reflect their district population. Students at Dallas Independent School District’s (DISD) Sunset High School are able to earn an Associate of Arts in Teaching at Dallas College prior to graduation — potentially reducing their time to a bachelor’s degree in Teacher Education by two years. Those who complete that program are also awarded a hiring letter of intent by DISD to encourage them to “return home” for a K-12 teaching position.

Apprenticeship “earn and learn” programs and state scholarship programs both play a role in increasing the affordability of educator pathways. The Cherry Creek School District’s Future Educator Pathway in Denver, Colorado is a youth apprenticeship program supported by CareerWise Colorado that employs high school juniors and seniors as paraprofessionals while accumulating a salary and retirement benefits. At the same time, these apprentices earn credit toward a teaching degree at the University of Colorado Denver. In addition, there are some state scholarship programs designed specifically for teacher preparation – including South Carolina’s Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA) and Illinois’s Golden Apple Scholars program – that provide highly competitive scholarships to teacher preparation candidates pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

What will it take to seed and scale high-quality early educator pathways across the country? Our recommendations are based on the bright spots we identified through this research. They include a number of ways in which school systems can design early educator pathways to increase teacher workforce diversity while making a shortened path to a bachelor’s degree more affordable for students of color. Three specific areas of opportunity include: 

Make diversity recruiting a priority. Low-income students, first-generation students, students of color, and rural students continue to face systemic barriers and insufficient support in accessing and completing early educator pathways. Districts and communities struggle with how to effectively recruit diverse learners. Programs such as the Center for Black Educator Development mentioned above and the Grow Your Own Program at the University of Colorado-Denver are able to recruit Black and Latinx students by positioning social justice oriented curricula that empowers students to be community change agents through teaching. District stimulus funding presents an opportunity to replicate and scale efforts such as these to improve the quality and reach of early educator pathways. 

Repair data leaks in the talent pipeline by developing cross-sector data systems. There are too few data in too many disparate systems to understand the opportunity and impact of early educator pathways, which makes connecting the pathway from high school to postsecondary unnecessarily burdensome for both students and administrators. Robust data sharing agreements and longitudinal data should not only include teacher demand projections, but also individual student progress throughout the pathway, dual enrollment course data and credit transfer articulation, as well as feedback on teacher placement, location, and student performance data once in the classroom. State leaders can consider investing stimulus funds in improved data systems and in data strategy, management, and sharing capacity. 

Pilot new models and connect current models to a quality framework. In some states such as South Carolina and Illinois, legislatures have funded fellowship programs to support teacher recruitment, development, and retention. However, few current models in the field offer Black and Latinx high school students an accelerated and affordable path into teaching. Given the dearth of models in the field, leaders must currently stitch together their understanding from pieces of relevant programs such as those listed above. The field needs robust, comprehensive models to guide the development of early educator pathways. While resources are continually stretched, there are opportunities—particularly given available stimulus dollars—to pilot new models with a combination of early-college high school, fellowship, and apprenticeship models where policy conditions are strong. Indiana recently proposed a promising teacher cadet program that reflects this model. 

With additional resources available through the American Rescue Plan, local education agencies have the opportunity to invest in the strategies above and strengthen diverse early educator pathways for the benefit of students and the teacher workforce alike.