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We need to make it easier for teachers of color to lead our classrooms

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- What if there were a relatively simple way to add more than 8,000 teachers of color to public schools to raise academic achievement -- but no one really cared enough to actually change the status quo?

It wouldn't surprise me one bit.

As in so many industries that vow to diversify their ranks, a case is made year after year for why it's important for more teachers of color to stand before classrooms of increasingly Hispanic, Asian, black and mixed-race students.

But not much happens. Meanwhile, the statistics show that not only are there not enough teachers of color interested in education careers, but the subject-matter tests they're required to take for state licensing continue to weed out promising candidates by the boatload.

This isn't due simply to economics and systemic racism -- although it's tough for bright, civic-minded people of color, often the first in their families to attend college, to commit to a relatively low-paying job in environments where they would be an ultra-minority.

It's also due to "the profound lack of alignment between preparation program coursework and the content knowledge that states have determined an aspiring teacher needs to be an effective elementary teacher," according to a new analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

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The tests for student teachers are rigorous and, theoretically, provide a decent picture of what subject matter has been mastered. But the education programs themselves fail their teacher trainees, according to the NCTQ report, "A Fair Chance: Simple steps to strengthen and diversify the teacher workforce." The report's key points are a disgrace:

-- While most programs require teacher candidates to take a course in composition and writing, they seldom require a germane literature course. Notably, only half require a children's literature course that corresponds to curricular expectations for elementary classrooms.

-- Only one in four programs covers the breadth of mathematics content necessary for elementary grades. (And if you've seen today's first-grade math curricula, with its algebraic concepts and higher-order thinking exercises that require real mathematical expertise, you'd be shocked that any programs make the grade.)

-- One in three programs does not require a history or geography course aligned with the needs of elementary teachers and their curricula.

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