The Wisconsin Policy Forum, a nonpartisan research organization, released a report on March 17th which identified that barriers at every step of becoming a teacher are stalling people of color from joining the state’s teacher workforce.
The report documents specific barriers and challenges people of color encounter when pursuing an educational career that are not faced by their white colleagues. Researchers interviewed educators and administrators all around the state, and found structural barriers for people of color at every step of the teacher education process.
Findings indicated that negative experiences with their own K-12 education can leave people of color without any desire to pursue a career in teaching. College campuses are also implicated, as they may fail to meet the financial, academic, and social-emotional needs of potential teachers of color.
Following these parts of the process, potential teachers of color face difficult licensing requirements and racial biases in hiring practices. Those who are hired then continue to face difficulties, as teachers of color often lack support from mentors that are culturally similar to them.
Anne Chapman is a senior researcher at the Wisconsin Policy Forum, and the author of the newly released report. She said that although there have been considerable efforts throughout the state to take down these many barriers, there is an underlying thread of bias that prevents them from being successful.
“There was a real predominant theme that what limits a lot of these efforts and what characterizes a lot of these barriers is an underlying sense of a racial bias in the system, in the culture, and in the institutions,” Chapman said.
The report also recommends how local and state policymakers can change the system.
Recommendations include prioritizing teacher education at the state level, targeting financial aid towards students of color pursuing teacher education, and fostering more equitable and supportive environments for teachers of color in the workplace.
Chapman emphasized that this report gives the state an opportunity to unify its various efforts into a more cohesive strategy with racial equity as its central consideration.
“Everyone we talked to, the leaders we talked to in these institutions felt like we could make a lot of progress if we could have that racial equity lens when we’re thinking about policies…there’s not only really promising practices already on the ground in Wisconsin that could be scaled up, but there’s more we could be doing, and the state has a real opportunity to address a lot of these barriers head on,” Chapman said.
The report comes as a larger share of students in Wisconsin public schools are students of color.
It also comes as the state’s second-largest school district, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), is considering major changes aimed at increasing diversity in its teaching staff.
Currently, seniority, or how long a teacher has been with the district, is the sole consideration when determining which teachers will have to be laid off. The proposed change would shift the rules so that seniority is only a small part of this decision. New factors for consideration would include teacher credentials, proficiency in multiple languages, and culturally responsive teaching practices.
The changes to the employee handbook are aimed at retaining teachers of color. These teachers are likely to be newer to the district, meaning they lack the seniority necessary to survive the current layoff procedure.
This proposition has been a point of contention between district officials and the Madison Teachers union. According to the Cap Times, union officials are concerned that including more subjective factors when considering who to lay off provides a new degree of discretion to district administrators.
The MMSD School Board is expected to vote on the employee handbook changes at their meeting on March 22nd.