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Education task force shares ideas for making Iowa’s teachers as diverse as students

School lockers line an empty hallway.
Flickr
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Doc Searls
As Iowa schools become more diverse, state officials are looking for ways to recruit more teachers of color.

The student population in Iowa’s K-12 schools is growing more diverse, but there are comparatively few teachers of color. A task force established by the Iowa legislature has ideas for recruiting teachers from diverse backgrounds, but keeping them in the profession is a problem, too.

The most recent data from the Iowa Department of Education show that about a quarter of students in Iowa schools are members of racial and ethnic minorities, compared to only about 3% of teachers.

The task force report makes recommendations for growing diversity among Iowa educators, including an apprenticeship program for 11th-grade students to begin working toward teaching careers while still in high school.

The students would take on positions as classroom aides and earn academic credit while working with licensed teachers.

Brittany Garling, dean of the School of Education at Buena Vista University, said growing teacher diversity is important in order for students to see themselves represented in the classroom.

“That’s the biggest thing is what does it look like to have someone that has a Hispanic background, has Punjabi background, has all the different types of ethnicities we have in school districts and see themselves in a teacher that’s in the field,” said Garling, who was on the task force.

The task force also said Iowa lawmakers should consider ways teachers could complete certification without having to pass the licensing exam known as Praxis. Garling said that would eliminate a common obstacle.

“What we know from standardized assessments is that they are inherently biased against diverse populations, so we also have had several teachers currently in districts right now who are stuck at being an (instructional assistant) because they can’t get through the Praxis exam,” Garling said.

Ain Grooms, an education policy professor at the University of Iowa, said recruiting is one part of the problem, but retaining teachers of color is another reason for the state’s low level of teacher diversity.

Her research shows that teachers of color feel added stress on the job from confronting issues of equity and racism in schools, such as disproportionate disciplinary actions against students of color and disparities in enrollment for advanced classes.

Some teachers are driven to tackle those issues, she said, but others are driven out of the profession.

“There's a group of people who are saying, ‘This is not a system, even if I worked on the system I can't change it because it's a system that's bigger than me. This is an institutional problem,’” Grooms said.

Grooms said other factors, such as teacher salaries, also influence whether educators of color continue their careers, but state and district officials must address school culture and policies that contribute to racial disparities in order for recruiting efforts to have a lasting impact.

“What’s the point in creating a pipeline program if you’re not also trying to address the problems of what happens when people get into the schools and live in those communities,” she said.

The task force report asks for the legislature to fund a study examining why teachers of color in Iowa leave education. The full report was shared with the Iowa State Board of Education, the governor’s office and the General Assembly.