Racial diversity has been increasing for decades in U.S. public schools, and students of color now account for 52 percent of total enrollment.1 Yet, white teachers still dominate the educator workforce, comprising 82 percent of all teachers.2 Research shows that teachers of color better understand the experiences of students of color, provide more culturally relevant teaching, and are able to develop trusting teacher-student relationships with them.3 With this large number of students of color in our schools, yet so few teachers of color, the nation faces an urgent need to prepare all teachers to work in increasingly diverse classrooms.
Keeping this critical issue in mind, REL Northeast & Islands’ Teacher Preparation Research Alliance hosted an all-day Bridge Event on June 25, titled “Equity and Diversity in Teacher Preparation: Learning from Research and Practice” (slides and recordings from the event available at the link). Keynote speaker Dr. Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Cawthorne Professor of Teacher Education for Urban Schools at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, presented to nearly 100 participants a rich review of research in teacher preparation for equity and diversity. She also shared a conceptual framework she developed for putting equity at the center of teacher education.
The event, held in Waltham, Mass., also included a panel discussion with representatives from the University of New Hampshire, Connecticut State Department of Education, and Boston Plan for Excellence, who shared their experiences infusing equity and diversity in their teacher educator programs. After lunch, attendees participated in state- and territory-specific breakout sessions, where they discussed how they might apply the Cochran-Smith framework in their daily work and shared ideas for strengthening the focus on equity and diversity in teacher preparation within their state or territory.
“The Teacher Preparation Research Alliance includes representatives of state agencies of education, university-based teacher preparation programs, and alternative preparation programs,” says Dr. Karen Shakman, a research scientist at REL Northeast & Islands and co-lead for the Alliance. “The members identified this topic—that is, ensuring our teaching workforce is able to meet the needs of all students, both in terms of increasing the diversity of the workforce and enhancing the cultural competency of teachers—as a priority. This event, which combined research and practical applications of Dr. Cochran-Smith’s work, was designed to engage regional stakeholders in identifying strategies and next steps to support recruiting and retaining a diverse teacher workforce and one that can meet the needs of all students across the region.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Marilyn Cochran-Smith discusses three major lines of research in teacher preparation for equity and diversity.
Learning from Research
Drawing on “Research on Teacher Preparation: Charting the Landscape of a Sprawling Field”4 and “Preparing Teachers for Diversity and High Poverty Schools: A Research-based Perspective”5 as her two main sources, Cochran-Smith discussed trends in the findings from three major lines of research in teacher preparation for equity and diversity. She prefaced her presentation by reminding the audience that how researchers frame problems and the kinds of questions they ask inform the results.
Research on alternative teacher preparation and certification for highly diverse, low-income schools. This line of research is varied and inconsistent, leading to inconclusive results, Cochran-Smith said. Although evidence does not suggest these programs offer a superior approach to teacher preparation, research has shown that many alternative certification and preparation programs are more effective than traditional university-based programs at recruiting teachers of color, thus affecting the characteristics of the educator labor force.
Research on preparing white teacher candidates for equity and diversity. Cochran-Smith said the findings in this line of research are generally positive about the impact these programs have on teacher candidates’ short-term beliefs about diversity and race. However, little evidence exists about whether these programs lead to a profound shift in teacher candidates’ perspectives. Some studies found that community-based learning experiences embedded within courses are most innovative and promising in helping white teacher candidates think complexly about diversity.
Research on recruiting and supporting teacher candidates of color in teacher preparation programs. The success of recruitment/retention programs for teachers of color depends on the availability of scholarships and other funding for teacher candidates, flexible time arrangements for the candidates, and strong partnerships between educational institutions and community-based organizations, Cochran-Smith said. Research also shows that teacher candidates of color in predominately white educational institutions may experience cultural insensitivity and feel marginalized.
Critiquing these three lines of research, Cochran-Smith posited that “the ‘status quo’ is failing to provide well-qualified teachers committed to working in low-income and/or highly diverse schools.” She also cautioned that little research really addresses the larger systemic factors that influence teaching and learning. “Research must deeply acknowledge the impact of social, cultural and institutional factors, particularly poverty on teaching, learning, and teacher education,” she concluded.
Dr. Leslie Couse speaks during the panel presentation about a University of New Hampshire program that prepares teachers to work in rural schools.
Learning from Practice
Following the research presentation, REL Northeast & Islands researcher and alliance co-lead Susan Mundry led a panel discussion with Dr. Leslie Couse, Professor of Education at University of New Hampshire (UNH); Dr. Sarah Barzee, Chief Talent Officer for the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE); and Dr. Ed Liu, Chief Improvement Officer for the Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE). The panelists each provided examples of how they have applied research about preparing teachers for equity and diversity to their work.
Liu discussed BPE’s focus on recruitment, course work, and induction in preparing a diverse teaching force. He said that BPE frequently visits universities with large populations of students of color and works with organizations such as City Year and Breakthrough Greater Boston to recruit candidates. He also shared BPE’s focus on implementing courses that address issues of inequality and social positioning. Regarding induction, he talked about BPE’s focus on providing individualized coaching for residents and use of a student survey to give feedback to the teachers, which helps them teach more effectively.
Couse described Teacher Residency for Rural Education, a 15-month residency program at UNH that trains math and science teachers to work in rural areas of New Hampshire. The program supports teacher candidates by providing them with a mentor teacher for a full academic year. She also talked about the program’s focus on community and family engagement, which is helping teachers recognize the opportunities within rural communities.
Barzee discussed policies and structures that have helped CSDE increase the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of the state’s teacher workforce. She talked about the strong focus on equity and diversity in the state board of education’s five-year strategic plan, and she shared how CSDE’s Talent Office has helped develop a coordinated and comprehensive statewide approach to improving the quality of the educator workforce. She also described how her team had become much more inquiry- and data-driven in the past year as they addressed issues of equity and diversity. She excitedly shared that the state will be launching a public-facing data dashboard this fall, which she hopes educator preparation programs, hiring districts, and the department will use to inform decisions related to equity and diversity, among other things.
Following the panel presentation, Cochran-Smith presented her conceptual framework for putting equity at the center of teacher preparation. The framework includes the following four components:6
Conceptualizing educational inequality and the role of initial teacher education (ITE) in challenging inequality
Defining the nature of practice for equity: enhancing the learning and life chances of under-served learners
Creating ITE curricula and program structures that are equity-centered, complex, and finely tuned to local patterns of inequality
Implementing research about equity-centered ITE for continuous local improvement and building theory about conditions that support teacher candidates’ enactment of practice for equity
Overall, participants reported that the Bridge Event provided helpful takeaways. Their comments included:
“I was really interested to hear Dr. Cochran-Smith talk about how community-based learning has been shown to help prepare teacher candidates for equity and diversity.” —Jeremy Saksik, teacher, Moses Brown School, Providence, RI
“I appreciated meeting with different state representatives and getting their perspectives on rural education teacher-preparation issues and the insight of the panel discussion.” —Robert Mahaffey, Executive Director, the Rural School and Community Trust; Director of Rural Programs, ASSA, The School Superintendents Association, Alexandria, VA
“Getting to discuss the equity framework with different stakeholders in Rhode Island was very helpful. We need to think about next steps and how we can put this research into practice in a thoughtful and meaningful way.” —Carin Algava, Assistant Director of Teacher Education, Brown University, Providence, RI
Watch a video of Dr. Cochran-Smith's presentation.
1 Musu-Gillette, L., Robinson, J., McFarland, J., KewalRamani, A., Zhang, A., & Wilkinson-Flicker, S. (2016). Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2016 (NCES 2016-007). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://ies.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2016007
2 Taie, S., and Goldring, R. (2018).
Characteristics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Teachers in the
United States: Results From the 2015–16 National Teacher and Principal Survey First Look
2017-072rev). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017072rev.pdf
4 Cochran-Smith, M., Villegas, A.M., Abrams, L., Chavez Moreno, L., Mills, T. & Stern, R. (2016). Research on teacher preparation: Charting the landscape of a sprawling field. In Gitomer, D. & Bell, C. (Eds.) Handbook of research on teaching (5th ed., pp. 439–547). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
5 Cochran-Smith, M. and Villegas, A.M. (2015). Preparing teachers for diversity and high poverty schools: A research-based perspective. In Lampert, J. & Burnett, B. (Eds.) Teacher education for high poverty schools. New York, NY: Springer Press.
6 Putting equity at the center of Initial Teacher Education: Four essential tasks. From Cochran-Smith, M., Ell, F., Grudnoff, L., Haigh, M., Hill, M., & Ludlow, L. (2016). Initial teacher education: What does it take to put equity at the center? Teaching and Teacher Education, 57, 67–78.