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WI policymakers discuss challenges to diversifying teacher workforce

Posted at 6:46 PM, Apr 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 19:46:01-04

MADISON — Wisconsin policymakers are considering what is behind a growing gap between students of color and teachers of color.

On Tuesday, the Speaker's Task Force on Racial Disparities Subcommittee on Education and Economic Development heard from the non-partisan research group, Wisconsin Policy Forum, and discussed ways to increase diversity among K-12 teachers.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum found that in the last decade, the gap between students of color and teachers of color has grown.

"The percentage of teachers of color has remained relatively flat at a pretty low level between 4 and 6 percent, but the percentage of students of color has widened pretty significantly from about 24 percent to 30 percent," said Anne Chapman, former senior research with the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

In a March report called "Opening Doors," the forum's researchers interviewed Wisconsin teachers and school and district leaders, among others in education.

They found several barriers along the teacher pipeline included high cost and lack of financial assistance, license testing requirements, and lack of adequate training for classroom realities.

Other factors that may discourage students of color from pursuing teaching careers cited were negative experiences with teachers growing up, low compensation, and lack of support from mentors and leaders.

"There's an undercurrent of racism and racial bias at the institutional level, that may be contrary to people's efforts and maybe contrary to policies and practices being put in place. But teachers did feel many institutions made it hard for them, made them feel isolated," Chapman reported.

Some committee members shared their own experiences, including Eve Hall, a former teacher.

"I know that depending on the kind of personality that you have, and if you are a teacher of color in a school that is predominately white, it can be a rough place and it can be very, very discouraging," said Hall.

She added that people of color go through different experiences and when they become teachers, they can also serve as a resource for students of color.

While there are ongoing efforts to address this growing disparity, researchers said state policy could boost those endeavors, like targeting state investments and more flexibility while maintaining rigor in teacher preparation.

It was noted that a diverse teacher workforce creates benefits especially to students of color, such as higher rates of academic achievement and high school graduation, as well as lower rates of suspension and dropout.

State Representative Robert Wittke, one of the committee's co-chairs, said they hope to establish policy solutions in the coming months.

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