The lack of diversity in the teaching profession has been apparent across the country for many years. Our current teacher workforce in Kent County is not reflective of the diversity within our community. For example, in 2021-22 at Kent ISD, 19% of the students are Latinx and 14% are Black. When including people who identify as Asian, two or more races, and other, Kent ISD is about 43% students of color. However, only 6% of our teaching staff are Educators of Color.
Furthermore, an analysis by KConnect of staffing information on MiSchoolData found that currently half of all districts (traditional & charter) and nearly 2/3rds of all school buildings report having no Black teachers. Additionally, over 30% of districts and 64% of buildings in Kent County report having no Hispanic teachers. As the 4th-12th Grade Workgroup considered these gaps, they identified the initial goal of having the racial and ethnic demographics of the educator workforce match that of the county. Currently, about 31% of Kent County residents identify as people of color. Our aim is to have the educator workforce comprised of at least 31% people of color as well.
To close the gap in Kent County, we would need to hire 2,175 educators of color including approximately 586 Black educators and about 775 Latinx educators. Because our educator workforce is predominately White, many of our students go through their entire K-12 education experience without ever having an educator of color.
Empirically, studies designed to uncover the effects of teachers of color on student achievement are developing. Recently Blazar’s (2021) article examined the relationship between Teachers of Color, Culturally Responsive Instruction, and Students Outcomes. This study reported that “teachers of color are linked to positive academic, social-emotional, and behavioral student outcomes and finds that these effects are driven, at least in part, by mindsets and practices aligned to what’s known as culturally responsive teaching” (Education Week, 2022).
The 4th-12th Grade Workgroup launched an Align and Design team that has identified four separate, but symbiotic, strategies to address not only the lack of Educators of Color but the shortage of educators across the profession. The align and design team is:
Dr. Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury
Grand Valley State University; Literacy, Educational Foundations, and Technology
Formerly Grand Rapids Public Schools
Kentwood Public Schools
Dr. Heidi Kattula
East Grand Rapids Public Schools
Dr. Keenan King
Grand Valley State University; Center for Education Partnerships
Steepletown Neighborhood Services
Stakeholder Empathy Convenings
In order to effectively develop solutions to a problem, a diverse population of stakeholders must be brought together. Stakeholder Empathy Convenings would bring together prospective teachers currently enrolled in high school, pre-service educators, current teachers of color, and K-12 administrators while also meeting with industry leaders, deans of education at Michigan universities, nonprofits, workforce development organizations, and previous Teachers of Color. The purpose would be to inform, convene, and facilitate conversations surrounding the critical shortage of Educators of Color in Kent County.
These convenings would be designed to elevate lived experience voices in conversations surrounding Educators of Color locally. KConnect would visualize data for the convening and facilitate the group to have a discussion around racial disparities facing educators. The Align and Design Team believes that raising awareness surrounding the urgency of the issues will push the community to action, ultimately leading to increased community support for Educators of Color.
Livable Wage and Financial Systems Change
“Teachers earn nearly 20% less than other professionals with similar education and experience, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In many states, their wages are below the living wage, forcing teachers to seek secondary jobs to supplement their income or leave the profession altogether.” (CNBC, 2021)
The Align and Design Team’s objective is to create a system that invests in the financial stability and sustainability of Educators of Color in Kent County. This would focus on improving outcomes for current and future educators. Building financial capacity will increase the attractiveness and recruitment of Individuals of Color to the teaching profession in Kent County.
Innovative Pathways for Teacher Certification
Earning a teaching credential is not accessible or practical for all individuals desiring to be educators. The objective is to create a system in Kent County that promotes innovative strategies for earning a teaching certification, which aligns with the State of Michigan’s “Grow Your Own” initiatives. The population of focus would be paraprofessionals, former Educators of Color, and individuals that are changing careers and are interested in teaching. By increasing access to teacher certification programs, more Individuals of Color would have an opportunity to become an educator.
Policy and Advocacy for Systems Change
Many of these strategies are long-term and rely heavily on advocating for policy change to local, state, and national lawmakers. With a goal to increase awareness surrounding the political climate in Kent County and Michigan, the Align and Design Team will begin by gathering more information about political structures and practices. They will then partner with other advocacy groups working for systemic change in K-12 education, develop a policy agenda for Kent County, and align with policy agendas from Michigan League for Public Policy and EdTrust Midwest.
Steelcase Social Innovation Fellowship
In early 2022, KConnect partnered with Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Public Schools to apply for, and ultimately be accepted into, the Steelcase Social Innovation Fellowship. The four-month fellowship provided tools, training and support to accelerate the “Future Educators of Color Network”, a program that works broadly to find ways to close a large numbers gap between students who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and teachers who identify as the same. The idea is to engage with K-12 students of color to help them see education as a career, continue to mentor them as they attain their degrees, and then support them in their careers, especially early on, to boost retention. This would increase a sense of belonging for current and future Educators of Color leading to lower attrition and turnover rates in Kent County.
The Align and Design Team will continue to meet to identify action steps around the four presented strategies. They will also work closely with the Future Educators of Color Network to hear the voice of lived experience and use that input to drive the work moving forward. More information on this important strategy will be released as it develops.