Heading into her senior year of high school at Cincinnati Public Schools, Teri’Ana Joyner says she can count on both of her hands how many Black teachers she’s seen around.
She's only worked with three.
Maybe that’s why it took the promise of a free ride to Miami University to convince her that teaching was a viable career choice. She says she wouldn’t have come to that decision on her own – no way.
“I didn’t see myself in my teachers, so I really didn’t want to be a teacher,” the 17-year-old says. “I didn’t want to be something I never saw."
In reality, Teri’Ana’s experience with three Black teachers is more than what many students in Ohio see during their K-12 education.
About 1 in 3 Ohio public school districts have a 100% white teaching staff, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
Ohio has far fewer minority teachers than minority students in its public schools. That matters because research has consistently shown that teachers of color:
- Help students of the same race or ethnicity perform better academically.
- Help white students understand the increasingly diverse cultural world around them.
- Help their peers stay in the profession longer.
The number of minority candidates pursuing teaching degrees in the state's universities has fallen in the past decade, despite multiple efforts to diversify over the past three years from the state and individual universities. Experts aren't hopeful the decline will reverse any time soon.
See the end of the story for an institution-by-institution breakdown of how many students of color have been enrolled in Ohio's teacher training programs over the past five years.
In the 2019-20 school year, state data showed 16.8% of students in Ohio were Black, compared with 4.3% of Black educators in grades K-12.
The same was true for other minority groups: 6.4% of Ohio students were Hispanic, while 0.7% of Ohio teachers were Hispanic. And 2.7% of students identified as Asian or Pacific Islander, while 0.5% of teachers identified as such.
“This is not a situation that’s going to be addressed quickly,” says Jason Lane, dean of Miami University’s College of Education, Health and Society. “We really got to start in middle school identifying students who could be great teachers and encourage them to think about that. They’re eight years or more from being in the schools.”
Miami professors came to Teri'Ana's class in eighth grade, touting mentorship programs, summer workshops, and free tuition and room and board for students who joined their Miami Teach program and chose to pursue a degree in education.
Miami’s partnership with Cincinnati's Aiken High School – New Tech is geared specifically toward recruiting students of color to become teachers.
“I’ll try it,” Teri’Ana says she thought at the time. Lucky for her, she grew to love the field and now daydreams of what her own classroom might look like someday.
Research shows students of color benefit academically, socially and emotionally when they are taught by teachers of color. These benefits include: gains in test scores, higher likeliness of staying in school, increased intentions of going to college, higher likeliness to take college entrance exams, lower likeliness to be chronically absent and lower likeliness to experience discipline incidents.
Many studies suggest that these effects persist over several years and have long-term benefits for students of color placed with race-matched educators in at least one grade level.
University of Cincinnati associate professor of education Emilie Camp says studies also suggest white students may benefit from being taught by educators of color.
"From a young age, the more diversity that students are exposed to and have experience with … the better insight they have into that diversity of the human experience,” Camp says.
“It develops empathy, we know, it develops stronger relationships across the board and a keener insight into how to solve big problems and how to work with diverse sets of people.
“I don’t know how else to put it. It just makes us better people, I think.”
Adding more teachers of color also can help other educators, studies show. Too often, teachers of color leave the field due to feelings of fatigue, isolation and frustration when they are one of the few teachers of color on staff.
Teri’Ana noticed this, too. She says most of the Black teachers she saw at school would only stay for about a year before leaving the district.
The solution, experts say, is to continue hiring more diverse educators.
But that’s easier said than done. Over the past decade, Ohio data shows fewer and fewer teachers of color entering school districts where student bodies continue to diversify.
Gap starts with teacher training
The pipeline of students who want to become teachers is a lot more shallow than it used to be. And the number of students of color in the teacher pipeline has slowed to a trickle.
Figures from the state education and higher education departments show that Ohio’s college and university teacher preparation programs boasted a higher number of racially and ethnically diverse students a decade ago than they do now.
Ohio had the most students of color in its teacher preparation programs around 2010, when 3,645 students of color were enrolled.
By 2018, which is the most recent data available from the state departments, 1,189 students of color were enrolled.
A USA TODAY Network Ohio survey of Ohio’s 49 teacher education programs indicates that enrollment of students of color has not improved since then.
While some of the preparation programs reported a higher number of Hispanic and multiracial students in 2020 compared with five years ago, a significant decline in the number of Black students in the programs eliminated any gains the colleges and universities could have seen in their overall counts for students of color.
On average, students of color annually comprise roughly 10% of the teacher preparation program enrollment, an analysis of the preparation program responses shows.
Less than a quarter of them actually graduate from the programs, according to the analysis.
Why minority recruitment has failed
Reporters interviewed education experts across Ohio to understand why fewer students of color are pursuing teaching.
Several themes emerged, most of which pertain to all teaching candidates regardless of race or ethnicity, but appear to impact the enrollment of students of color the most:
- The field of education is suffering from an image problem. “There’s a national narrative about the low respect of teaching as a profession,” Lane says. Research shows less than 50% of parents would encourage their kids to become teachers.
- Low starting salary doesn’t appeal to students who likely will be graduating with debt. The minimum starting salary for teachers in Ohio with bachelor’s degrees, by law, is $30,000.
- High requirements for Ohio teaching candidates make it difficult to get in the door. Ohio requires teacher preparation programs to be nationally accredited, most of which have done so through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. CAEP requires an incoming class, or cohort, to have an average GPA of 3.0, and score well on a college entrance exam, such as the ACT or SAT. Zaki Sharif, dean of the College of Education at Central State University, says the entrance exams can be barriers, particularly for students from urban high schools who often aren’t given as much time on test prep as suburban districts. Those students are also often unaware that they can retake the test to better their score or lack the money to retake the test. “There is no connection between a high ACT score and you being a good teacher,” he says.
- Cost of becoming a teacher. “One of the biggest obstacles for students coming into the profession is the cost of getting the degree and doing all of the work they have to do for student teaching and certification,” Lane says. “These are not inexpensive exercises.” To exacerbate the problem, many students can’t work other jobs during the unpaid 12 weeks of student teaching.
Other common issues in retaining students of color in teacher training programs include lack of support throughout their college careers, lack of diverse role models in the profession and the lengthy time commitment of staying in school.
The few students of color who do make it through Ohio’s teacher training programs often leave the profession if they take jobs in underfunded schools, or experience burnout from being the only teacher of color in a school.
What's the solution?
These challenges are not new, and scattered attempts over the years by colleges and universities have produced little improvement. But a push by state officials and national education associations to diversify the teaching profession has some experts hopeful.
A statewide task force assembled in 2018 by the Ohio departments of education and higher education has recommended a range of actions for Ohio to better recruit and retain teachers of color, including mentorship programs, better promotion of the teaching profession, and providing loan forgiveness and scholarships.
This year, the state doled out grants to 20 different school districts to help them diversify their ranks over the next 2 ½ years. Most of the grants will support what's known as "grow your own" programs that recruit teacher candidates from nontraditional areas, such as educational aides and after-school staff.
Rochonda L. Nenonene, co-director of the Urban Teacher Academy at the University of Dayton who served on the statewide task force, believes it could take up to 10 years before the current efforts will make a noticeable impact.
Even then, she expects a "steady increase of candidates (of color), not a deluge."
Looking for teachers in new places
So what are K-12 districts supposed to do in the meantime to diversify their teaching staffs?
Lane says districts should tap into their paraprofessionals, who often tend to come from diverse backgrounds.
“Those individuals tend to be highly committed to our students and highly committed to the communities where they are,” Lane says.
He suggests finding ways to fast-track those individuals into education programs to earn teaching certificates.
Cincinnati Public Schools’ Ross Turpeau, director of talent acquisition and staffing, says the district started a program this year to identify paraprofessionals in their community who might want to pursue teaching degrees. The district is offering support and resources for those individuals. Turpeau says there are 43 people in that program now.
Turpeau says the district has historically relied on local universities such as UC, Xavier and Miami to obtain their more than 200 student teachers each year, many of whom often end up teaching within Cincinnati Public Schools afterward.
But that’s about to change, he says.
“We know that’s not getting us what we need,” Turpeau says.
CPS has roughly 36,000 students, making it the third-largest district in Ohio. Racial minorities make up roughly 3 of 4 CPS students, state data shows.
“We know we need to be more diverse. We know what our numbers look like as far as the students we serve. And we know the importance of making sure that we’re putting people in positions that look like our students, too,” Turpeau says.
To do that, the district is looking at partnerships with Central State University, Ohio’s only historically Black college or university (HBCU) with a teacher training program.
The problem is, Central State is too small to solve the statewide problem on its own. The university’s teacher training program had 28 graduates this past year, its largest graduating class in years.
Central State has begun an online teacher preparation program that has grown its enrollment from 120 to more than 1,400 students. But it's unclear whether it will help Ohio's shortage of teachers of color, as roughly 85% of the students are from out-of-state and likely will remain there.
Turpeau says the district might have to look outside Ohio, too. They are exploring partnerships with other HBCUs, like Spelman College in Atlanta and Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Dawn Shinew, dean of the College of Education & Human Development at Bowling Green State University, believes districts and universities also need to support the diverse teachers and students they do have.
"Recruiting more Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) students to our educator preparation programs isn’t going to help if they haven’t had supportive, positive experiences in K-12 to ensure they will be successful and ready for college," Shinew says.
"Similarly, graduating more BIPOC teachers isn’t going to make a difference if school districts don’t hire and support these teachers so that they stay in the profession.”
Diversity brings an inspiring example
Teri’Ana says she feels as though a weight is off her shoulders as she enters her senior year at Aiken. She doesn’t have to worry about college admissions or tuition dollars, like many of her classmates. Her plan has been set in stone since eighth grade.
But besides the scholarships and summer intensives provided through Miami Teach, Teri’Ana says she’s most grateful for and inspired by Rachel McMillian, a Miami alumna who taught social studies at Aiken until the end of last school year. McMillian helped lead the Miami Teach program alongside Nathaniel Bryan, a Miami professor.
It was important to see someone who looked like her as a teacher before she knew she could do it herself, Teri’Ana says.
McMillian gave her "motivation to know that I can do it, to know that I can become a great teacher and get my doctorate, you know?” Teri’Ana says.
“I feel like seeing myself in the classroom actually helps me know that I can do something with my life.”
If all goes as planned, Teri’Ana could be leading her own classroom by 2027.