The 235-page, 10-year $3.8 billion plan “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future” has promised to bridge achievement gaps for students of all backgrounds and to produce high-performing graduates by investing in key areas of Maryland’s public schools. Though not spotlighted in a report on its progress since 2020, one of the targeted areas of the plan is to develop “high-quality diverse teachers and school leaders in every school,” by “aiding students from groups historically underrepresented in the teaching profession in achieving teacher preparation and certification requirements” (page 207).
This is important because research by the Learning Policy Institute clearly demonstrates the benefits of developing and sustaining a diverse teaching workforce including increased academic performance by students of color as measured by improved reading and math test scores, higher graduation rates and increased aspirations to attend college. The same research also found that students of color and white students reported having positive perceptions of their teachers of color — including feeling cared for and academically challenged.
In a 2022 report to the Maryland State Department of Education, state Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury cited that Maryland’s student population is 21% Black and 7% Latino while the teacher population is 19% Black and only 4% Latino. Since 2012, there has been a gap between the percentage of students of color and the percentage of teachers of color greater than 30%.
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future recognizes the important role historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic serving institutions play in preparing diverse and high-quality teachers by giving those institutions grant priority. But not all prospective teachers in this demographic are able to live on or commute to a college campus to get a teaching degree.
Online, competency-based education — which measures skills and subject knowledge rather than time spent in a classroom — is one approach that has proven successful at saving time and money. The key is flexibility — offering options that provide access regardless of child care status, location, or wherever the hands happen to be on the clock.
The results of this approach are clear. Western Governors University’s Teachers College is in the top 1% for granting degrees for Black and Hispanic and Latinx educators at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. It is second in the nation for combined graduate and undergraduate degrees and credentials for students of color, according to the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
Higher education providers, policymakers and students must recognize the benefits of models that value skills-based mastery while addressing affordability to recruit, train and retain quality teachers who reflect the full spectrum of the race, ethnicity and life experiences of the students they serve and the communities they call home.
— Rebecca L. Watts, Weehawken, New Jersey
The writer is regional vice president of Western Governors University.
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