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Education advocates work to increase teacher diversity in Edmonds | Guest View


Last updated 2/23/2018 at Noon

The Feb. 8 Edmonds Beacon article titled “Helping to solve the educational diversity gap” highlights the struggle many districts face, including Edmonds, to recruit, retain and support teachers of color.

As the article noted, 51 percent of students identify as ethnically diverse, with only 9 percent of teachers reporting as such. In addition, there are 115 languages being spoken at home in the Edmonds School District. Demographics are changing quickly in our district and surrounding communities.

Students want to see teachers and curriculum that more closely resemble them, and there is powerful evidence that having teachers of color in the classroom makes a difference in closing the achievement gap.

A recent study shows that having at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced a black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent. For very low-income black boys, the probability of dropping out fell 39 percent.

Students of all races benefit from having teachers of color lead in the classroom, who serve as role models to what is possible in a career after high school. Together, they help to remove racial stereotypes and improve communication, with the ultimate goal of higher graduation rates and academic success of our students of color.

Why is it so difficult to close the teacher diversity gap?

A person of color is more likely to experience poverty and less likely to graduate from high school or a four-year institution. Some have had negative experiences in an institution that historically catered to one race.

The huge financial burden of higher education is prohibitive for many, including navigating the maze of financial aid, college admissions and grant applications.

It is much more difficult if English is not your first language. Teaching in Washington state requires a classroom teaching component of three to six months, which means teachers in training are not earning wages and benefits during this time.

Low starting salaries in the teaching profession can also be a disincentive, especially with the high student debt many students inherit.

While the odds may seem insurmountable, a group of education advocates in Edmonds formed to confront the teacher diversity gap challenge.

The Edmonds School District, in partnership with Edmonds Community College, Hazel Miller Foundation and UW Bothell, began a serious commitment to increase and support more teachers of color.

The result was the 2017 formation of the Teachers of Color Foundation, a nonprofit that creates a pipeline for employees working in the Edmonds School District, specifically paraeducators of color, to return to college and earn their teaching certificate.

Paraeducators work in our schools to provide learning support, student discipline, coaching, playground assistance lunchroom supervision and more. The ethnic diversity of paraeducators more closely matches the community, and they have a passion for being around education and working in classrooms.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Hazel Miller Foundation, there are currently eight Teachers of Color scholarship recipients from the Edmonds School District in the program. They range in age from 25 to 50, many with families and children to support.

Some are first-generation college students, and range from having a few college credits to a bachelor’s degree.

Many are graduates from the Edmonds School District. All are proven leaders in the schools and have an intense desire to become a classroom teacher, or administrator in the Edmonds School District. Their enthusiasm and commitment to succeed is an inspiration.

What makes this multiyear scholarship program unique is that it provides not only tuition assistance but also financial help with testing fees, books, living expenses while student teaching, and emergency funds for those unexpected barriers.

In addition, professional assistance is given to navigate financial aid, grants and college admissions. Teachers of Color recipients receive mentoring, career counseling and social justice professional development training.

The new teachers will be expected to work in the Edmonds School District for three years after receiving their teaching certificate.

The overall mission of the Teachers of Color Foundation is to close the achievement gap for students of color. The added benefits are a more culturally competent education system where every student will achieve academic success no matter the color of their skin.

To learn more about the Teachers of Color Scholarship Program, go to www.teachersofcolorfoundation.com.

Diana White is an Edmonds School District commissioner and Edmonds Diversity Commission chair.


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