Study after study confirms that all students benefit from teacher diversity. A diverse educator workforce prepares students to live and work in a multilingual, multiracial and multicultural society. Students of color, in particular, benefit from improved academic and social-emotional outcomes and experiences when they are taught by educators with similar linguistic, racial and cultural characteristics.
Yet, even though we recognize the value of teacher diversity, only 20 percent of educators in American classrooms are teachers of color. The question for the nation now is: How do we address this problem quickly and thoughtfully? The solutions we’ve tried to this point have been insufficient. In large part, this is because those solutions have focused largely on recruiting more diverse teacher candidates—and less on ensuring that those candidates receive the preparation that enables them to persist in the teaching profession.
To identify and promote the right solutions to this urgent need, the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (BranchED) launched earlier this fall, focused on advancing educator preparation by elevating and amplifying minority serving institutions’ (MSI) educator preparation programs (EPPs). MSI’s enroll a set percentage of of their student population from a specific minority group and include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and institutions that primarily serve Asian Americans, Native Americans, or Pacific Islanders.
Our focus should be on the nation’s 253 MSI EPPs as they have the longest, most significant track record of preparing diverse educators who thrive and persist in the profession. Graduates from MSIs are more likely to work in challenging schools—and stay in those schools where other teachers are more likely to leave. Additionally, with a learner-centered, hands-on, and culturally responsive approach, MSIs have a rich history of taking teacher candidates from where they are to where they need to be.
Regrettably, that track record is not often appreciated by the larger field of higher education. MSIs often fall below the radar and their unique contributions are not understood or appreciated by the broader field nor the public. While they often serve a broad spectrum of students, including high percentages of those who are first-generation and low-income, MSIs do so with limited human and financial resources.
We need to acknowledge and mine that collective expertise. We need to share it with the field at large to inform a teacher-training pipeline and set of policies that prepares diverse educators to thrive in the classroom—no matter the challenges they face.
Shouldn’t our vision be for all students in the United States to have access to highly-effective, diverse educators?
To achieve this mission, we must provide practical technical assistance to advance minority serving institutions’ core outcomes, foster strategic alliances to spur collaboration and innovation, and amplify the unique contributions that they bring to preparing teachers who will educate America’s citizens. And as a result, a network of high-impact educator preparation programs at MSIs can emerge, generating the visibility and resources that they deserve.
Our organization is named in honor of a woman named Mary Elizabeth Branch, the first woman of color to serve as president of an accredited senior college in the United States of America. President Branch pioneered the type of transformation that we should look to achieve in educator preparation and in classrooms across the country, re-inventing Tillotson College in Austin, Texas, from a deteriorating women’s junior college into a four-year, co-educational undergraduate institution.
Through high expectations, equally strong supports, rigorous content, continuous faculty development, and cross-institutional collaboration, Branch created positive change at her institution and throughout the broader community. This is the type of transformation we need to facilitate among MSIs. We must strive to promote collaboration among the MSI community and a broad coalition—including K-12 schools and leaders, the business community, nonprofits, and philanthropic organizations—to provide excellence and innovation in educator preparation programs.
In doing so, we can improve the educator pipeline and close the educator diversity gap. The work to empower MSI’s to take the lead is fundamental to the health of our multilingual, multicultural and multiracial democracy.