As parents and students know, having the right teacher matters. Research shows that teachers are the No. 1 in-school factor for student success. Students with the strongest teachers receive what amounts to months’ worth of additional learning each year. In addition, both research and the lived experiences of children show that teachers affect much more than academics. And yet, students of color and students from low-income families are less likely to have access to strong, consistent teaching than their White and higher-income peers (see more here and here).

All students benefit from having at least one teacher of color, and students of color are more likely to attend school regularly, perform higher on end-of-year assessments, be referred to a gifted program, graduate high school, and consider college when they have had a teacher of the same race or ethnicity. But students of color are far less likely than their White peers to encounter a teacher who looks like them. Today, 51 percent of students in U.S. public schools are students of color, but just 20 percent of teachers are teachers of color. As a result, students of all backgrounds miss out on the many academic and social-emotional benefits of a racially and ethnically diverse teacher workforce. The data is stark: Thousands of Black and Latino students attend a school where they have no same-race teachers. Even larger percentages of White students attend a school without a Black teacher and/or Latino teacher.

Although district and school leaders make many of the decisions about recruiting, hiring, placing, and supporting teachers, state education officials also play a critical role in shaping the teacher workforce. This document provides state leaders with an overview of five things they should do to elevate the teaching profession so that all students, including students from low-income families and students of color, are taught by strong and diverse educators.

Set – then meet – clear goals at the state and district level to increase access to strong and diverse educators.

States must:

  • Establish clear, numeric state and district goals that are ambitious and achievable to set the clear expectation that all students have access to strong teachers, as well as goals for diversifying the teacher workforce.
  • Set clear timelines for reaching those goals and intermediate targets that allow the state — and the public — to monitor progress and make changes as necessary.
  • Clearly communicate why goals are important — including to the public and underserved families and communities.
  • Hold regular meetings to report progress toward reaching those goals.

Examples of State Targets

  • In its state plan submitted under the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2017, Massachusetts reported that while only 12.7% of White students are assigned to a teacher with less than three years of experience, 17.2% of students of color are assigned to these teachers — a gap of 4.5 percentage points. By the 2021-2022 school year, Massachusetts’ goal is to eliminate that gap, by closing it roughly 0.9 percentage points each year.
  • By 2025, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) plans to increase the number of teachers of color in critical shortage school districts by 25%.

Target resources to the districts and schools that struggle the most to provide students from low-income families and students of color with access to strong teachers

The assignment of students to teachers is a complicated process that often varies from state to state and district to district, but recruiting and retaining strong teachers in schools that have historically struggled to do so is a necessary commitment for all state leaders. This investment is critical for students as well as for communities’ and states’ futures.

There are several promising, evidence-based strategies that can be effective depending on local context. States and districts will need to target resources to the districts and schools that are struggling the most to provide strong teachers to students from low-income families and students of color.

Strategies might include the following:

  • Focus teacher preparation efforts on the subjects, districts, and schools that have the highest rates of ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers and the districts with the biggest gaps in access to strong educators between student groups.
    • For example, states or districts could provide dedicated funding for college students pursuing a career in special education or teaching English learners; or, states could provide support for partnerships between high-need districts and strong teacher preparation programs.
  • Provide incentives to recruit and retain strong teachers and principals in high-need schools and subjects.
  • Create teacher leadership roles in high-need schools that allow strong teachers that have demonstrated experience successfully teaching students from low-income families and students of color to advance professionally while remaining in the classroom.
  • Offer competitive grants specifically for evidence-based teacher and principal support, professional development, and retention programs in high-need districts and schools.
  • Given that we know that satisfaction with school leaders is key to retaining teachers in high-poverty schools:
    • Offer competitive grants for high-need districts to create principal pipelines for strategically preparing, hiring, developing, and supporting school leaders (see, for example, the work funded by
      the Wallace Foundation in six large districts across the country).
    • Ensure that standards for principal preparation programs and professional standards for principals reflect the skills necessary to improve achievement in struggling schools and for historically underserved groups of students.
  • Require all educators to be trained in using racially and culturally sustaining practices to make the school environment more equitable and inclusive for students and teachers.
  • Engage diverse educators and staff in identifying challenges and solutions (through surveys or other methods) and responding by making timely changes to policies and programs (e.g., providing additional school counselors or mental health providers, wraparound services for students, fixing unsafe or unhealthy infrastructure, and improving school climate).

New Jersey Directs More State Funding to Low Wealth, High-Poverty Districts

In New Jersey, leaders send about 450% more state dollars to high-poverty districts. As a result, the highest poverty districts receive roughly 20% more state and local funding than the lowest poverty districts. While this is not enough to close achievement gaps according to the research (see above), it is a remarkable step given the vastly inequitable local spending.

Ensure that dollars are used well to improve student learning experiences and outcomes

How much funding is allocated to districts and schools matters. But how those funds are used is just as important. State funding systems should include accountability measures to ensure that funding is spent on resources and evidence-based supports and interventions that will close opportunity and achievement gaps for students from low-income families, English learners, students of color, and students with disabilities. Specifically, states should:

  • Require districts to use these additional funds in the schools where the students with additional needs areenrolled, or on districtwide activities that serve the students they are intended to support.
  • Require all districts to develop and publish a plan for how the district will use the funding it receives to create enriching student experiences given their specific local contexts. Those plans should:
    • Be based on a needs assessment, evidence, and/or research.
    • Be developed in consultation with families and students who have been traditionally underserved in the community and community advocates representing those groups, along with educators and school leaders.
    • Include ambitious, time-bound targets for closing opportunity and achievement gaps.
    • Be based on a set of guiding questions or a template that is developed by the state, so they are generally consistent across districts.
    • Be approved by the state department of education.
    • Cover a specified time period (e.g., three years) and be reviewed and revised at the end of the time period.
    • Include a clear process for escalating intervention by the state if districts do not meet targets. This intervention could include additional technical assistance, a resource allocation review or equity audit, or staffing or governance changes.

Accountability for how funds are used is important, but that accountability can lead to prescriptive uses of funds that prevent districts from meeting the specific needs of their schools and students. States should strike a balance between including guardrails in their systems to make sure that funds are used well, and on students who need the most support, and providing enough flexibility to allow districts to respond to their local needs and context. The key to striking this balance is a system of escalating intervention that maximizes flexibility for districts that are meeting their ambitious, time-bound targets for closing gaps, and increases requirements for action in districts that are not meeting those goals on behalf of their students. To learn more, see “Five Things State Leaders Should do to Advance Equity: State Accountability Systems, School Improvement, and Reporting.”

Teacher Leadership

The Opportunity Culture (OC) initiative aims to extend the reach of highly effective teachers by restructuring P-12 schools and providing direct professional development, collaboration, and planning time for these educators. Students who were taught by teachers in a team coached by an OC teacher showed higher achievement than those taught by teachers who didn’t receive that coaching.

Target resources to diversify the teaching workforce

To improve teacher diversity, state leaders should address gaps at each point in the teacher pipeline — through preparation, licensure, recruitment, and retention strategies, as well as support and development programs, and opportunities to grow and lead in the classroom. Regardless of the specific approach a state takes, it must engage in multiple strategies to improve teacher diversity.
Strategies might include the following:

  • Provide substantial scholarships or loan forgiveness for teacher candidates in underrepresented racial, ethnic, or linguistic groups or who are eligible for Pell Grants, as these candidates, on average, have greater student debt than their peers.
  • Make funds available for additional out-of-pocket expenses such as licensure fees, relocation expenses, and classroom supplies.
  • Create “grow your own” pathways, in partnership with higher education programs, into the teaching profession for candidates from untapped sources (e.g., paraprofessionals, after-school staff, etc.) who are likely to reflect the student population and are already dedicated to serving students of color.
  • Actively engage teacher preparation programs at minority-serving institutions, including historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges/universities for strategic recruitment of graduating students and alumni.
  • Create programs for districts to specifically support, provide professional development, and retain teachers of color, potentially including creating affinity groups and/or cohort hiring models that districts and schools can adopt to try to help retain teachers of color.

Maryland Publishes Data on State Funding to Districts

The Maryland Department of Legislative Services regularly publishes documents that help the general public understand how much funding each district receives from the major funding categories in the state’s school funding formula

  • Analyze the data to identify patterns in which districts are being underfunded. That analysis should be public and include an exploration of whether certain provisions in the formula are producing unintended equity-undermining consequences, such as:
    • Hold harmless provisions. When the state changes its funding system or districts experience substantial decreases in student enrollment, it is important for states to provide stable funding so that districts do not experience sharp funding cuts. But this funding intended to stabilize district budgets, sometimes referred to as “hold harmless funding,” should be phased out over time.
    • Small district adjustments. Small districts often cannot benefit from economies of scale that large districts experience. Similarly, geographically dispersed districts may have additional expenses (e.g., transportation). Therefore, state funding systems often provide additional funding for small or dispersed districts. While sometimes necessary, states should ensure that these adjustments are not incentivizing a troubling trend in which wealthier, Whiter communities are proactively seceding from their more racially and socioeconomically diverse parent districts to create new, segregated districts, and do not otherwise result in groups of students with higher need receiving less funding.
    • Revenue shortfalls. If revenue is a challenge, states should ensure that they do not cut funding in a way that punishes high-need districts and students by, for example, cutting supplemental funding for students from low-income families or reducing the amount of equalization funding provided to low-wealth districts. This can be particularly hard to spot. For example, if a state’s formula says that when revenues are insufficient, the state will reduce every district’s state aid by the same percentage, it might appear “fair” but would actually take a much larger toll on those districts relying most heavily on state aid due to their high student need or low wealth or income.

Use Caution

As states consider strategies to ensure that students of color and students from low-income families have access to strong educators, it is important to consider how actions to improve the strength of the teacher workforce may impact the diversity of the workforce, and vice versa. For example, a state may want to increase the score needed on a specific assessment used for teacher licensure because the state believes that will improve the quality of teacher candidates who ultimately teach in high-needs schools. However, if that assessment is racially or culturally biased, an increase in the minimum score may further decrease the diversity of the state’s new teachers. Further, if the state is systemically underserving students of color throughout the P-12 system, increasing “cut scores” for teacher licensure is likely to negatively impact teacher diversity. This does not mean the state should not take action to improve the quality of teacher candidates, but it does mean that the state should simultaneously consider updates to the state test to reduce bias and provide additional support and resources for teacher candidates of color to fill any gaps in knowledge that the P-12 system created.

Make educator quality and diversity data more visible and actionable

The only way for stakeholders to know if the strategies above are helping ensure that students of color and students from low-income families have access to strong, diverse educators is to have access to useful, timely, and transparent data. As keepers of state data systems, leaders of state departments of education are uniquely positioned to provide stakeholders with information on which students are assigned to strong teachers, potential causes of these patterns, and their impact on children.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires state education agencies to evaluate annually whether students of color and students from low-income families are taught more often by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers compared with their higher income, non-minority peers. In addition, the law requires that annual report cards include information about the professional qualifications of teachers in all schools and be disaggregated for high- and low-poverty schools. For this information to be meaningful, it’s important that the state annually publish analyses that do the following:

  • Include a definition for each measure of teacher quality (i.e., “out-of-field,” “ineffective,” and “inexperienced”) that provides meaningful and different information. For example, states should ensure that increasing student learning is a meaningful part of the definition of “effective” or “highly effective” teaching.
  • Identify the districts with the highest rates of ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers and the districts with the biggest gaps in access to strong educators between student groups.
  • Disaggregate data by teacher race and ethnicity at the district and school level and compare that data with students’ race and ethnicity at the district and school level.

States should also do the following:

  • Report data on potential causes of disparities, including:
    • educator turnover rates (at the school, not just district, level)
    • school climate/working conditions from surveys
    • school and district leadership quality (These school- and district-level indicators should be disaggregated by teacher race/ethnicity.)
  • Identify and report on “teacher deserts” (i.e., places within the state with few nearby teacher prep programs).
  • Create data systems that go beyond tracking which types of schools rely on ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teaching to tracking which students spend more time with which types of teachers, so that district and school leaders can address within-school inequities in teacher/student assignment.

Massachusetts Uses Data to Assess Student Experience

Massachusetts’ Student Learning Experience Report lets school- and district-level administrators see the characteristics of teachers who teach each student over a number of years, providing a real sense of the impact on students over time when they are not assigned to strong or diverse teachers. After all, it’s one thing to know that one-third of the teachers in a school are in their first year; it’s another altogether to know that a student who’s struggling had novice teachers for the last three years in a row (whether in the same district or another).