Washington State teachers are younger and whiter, according to a recent study by the University of Washington.
The findings mirror Spokane’s teacher population, said Mary Templeton the district’s director of certificated personnel.
Three primary factors contribute to the increased demand for younger teachers: full-day kindergarten, fewer students per class and an aging workforce, said Margaret Plecki, a UW professor and co-author of the study.
“The number of first- and second-year teachers has more than doubled in the last five years,” she said. “That’s dramatic for us. I think in the past we’ve had a pretty stable workforce.”
Templeton believes Spokane Public Schools is an attractive district for newer teachers, partially because of its size, but also because of the types of students served in the district.
“They want careers that matter, they want careers that make a difference,” Templeton said of younger teachers. “Where else can you make that kind of impact, that kind of a difference, than in the second largest school district in the state of Washington that serves … the highest poverty zip code in the state.”
In response to the increase in new teachers, the district has implemented more comprehensive training and mentorship programs.
“We’ve really made a concerted effort this year to focus on our new teachers,” said Kim Harmon, the director for talent quality initiatives.
Harmon oversees a teacher mentorship program, and runs regular trainings for new teachers. That work is funded by a $521,000 state grant, via the state’s Beginning Educator Support Team.
“There is huge policy implication there on focusing more of our efforts on mentoring and supporting those folks,” Plecki said.
Although the teacher workforce is getting younger, it’s still overwhelmingly white, even as the state, and Spokane diversify. In 1995-96, 94 percent of teachers were white; in 2015-16, 90 percent of teachers were white.
For comparison in 1996-97, the percent of white students in Washington state was 77.5 percent. By 2015-16, that number had fallen to 56.1 percent. In 2015-16, in Spokane 68.6 percent of students were white.
Statewide there has been an increase in Hispanic teachers, Plecki said. However, there was a slight decline in the proportion of African American teachers – dropping from 1.6 percent in 1995 to 1.2 percent in 2015-16.
“What this suggests is that whatever strategies might be in place to make teachers attractive to individuals of color isn’t working well,” Plecki said.
Since 2010 Spokane’s teaching workforce has become more white, according to the report. According to Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction data 93 percent of Spokane Public Schools 1,955 classroom teachers were white.
Templeton said the district is actively trying to recruit applicants that are more diverse.
“We all understand the moral imperative to make sure we have staff and teachers in our classrooms that look like our kids,” she said. “As we become more diverse as students we have a responsibility to recruit diverse applicants.”
In an effort to do that the district is hoping to more closely partner with Eastern Washington University’s education program, which has one of the most diverse student bodies in the state. Also, the district is making an effort to encourage people from Spokane to teach in local schools.
“If you (local universities) have any students whom come from diverse backgrounds, we want to know about it so we can have first dibs,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said.
Roughly 40 percent of the district’s new hires each year come from the student-teaching program, which draws from local universities.
Studies show students do somewhat better on tests when they have a teacher of the same race. The inverse is true as well – students with a teacher of a different race do slightly worse on test scores.
One challenge to addressing the disparity in the workforce is that it’s not clear why there are fewer minority teachers, according to a policy brief published by the UW-affiliated Center for Education Data and Research.
Plecki’s research didn’t examine this question directly, but she wonders if “individuals of color with college degrees” have more employment options. Additionally, she believes negative perceptions of teaching may be driving some highly qualified college graduates toward other professions.
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