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As a testament to her commitment to academic acceleration in the aftermath of the pandemic, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) recently proposed a budget that increased per-pupil funding and expanded access to mental health services along with other services for students.
But for a contingent of teachers and paraprofessionals, Bowser has a serious blind spot as it relates to shaping the District’s teacher workforce so it reflects the diversity of the student population.
They assert that like a cadet program would do for the Metropolitan Police Department, a change from business as usual could attract more District high school graduates to the teaching profession.
The lack of what’s been called a “grow your own” program has also, as Patricia Stamper told The Informer, stagnated the career trajectory of many District educators, despite the number of years they’ve accumulated in the classroom.
“There are paraprofessionals who can’t afford to [repeatedly] take the Praxis test and live in D.C. Some of them have accepted that they won’t rise and grow within the teaching profession to anything other than support staff,” said Stamper, a paraprofessional at Miner Elementary in Ward 6 who advocates for EmpowerEd, a local nonprofit dedicated to educational equity and elevating the diverse voices of District teachers.
“We are in the minor leagues. This is a living wage issue,” Stamper continued.
“Paraprofessionals are paid pennies to the dollar compared to lead teachers who are given bonus money. There is no incentive for growth.”
Breaking Down Barriers to Entry
Entering the classroom as a full-fledged educator in the District often requires a teaching credential that’s obtained through completion of master’s level courses and a passing score on the PRAXIS for the relevant subject areas. Teachers who don’t acquire licensure by next March will be terminated by the end of the 2021-2022 academic year according to the DCPS website.
EmpowerEd’s campaign to create a “grow your own” teacher pipeline program, three years in the making, has entered a stage where members have begun to engage members of the D.C. Council for the introduction of legislation. This includes D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I- At large) who chairs the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, Councilmember Robert White (D-At large) and Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4).
Toward the end of last month, EmpowerEd members converged on Freedom Plaza in support of a program that would give students academic and financial incentives to pursue careers in education before and after graduation.
This would happen through an office that coordinates activity between the Office of the State Superintendent of Education [OSSE], District high schools and local universities. If the program comes to fruition, it would increase offerings currently in existence at select District high schools along with the University of the District of Columbia, Trinity Washington University and Catholic University of America.
The program would also potentially raise the District’s standing as an incubator of a diverse teacher workforce.
In an analysis about teacher recruitment and diversity conducted by The Education Trust, the District received low ratings in the areas of access to teacher diversity data and setting clear goals to boost teacher diversity.
However, when it came to intentional recruitment and investment in preparation programs, the District partially met the criteria compared to its counterparts in other school districts across the country.
“We looked at some of the early sort of pipeline-building efforts, like teacher academies that target students or color and bring investments,” said Eric Duncan, a P-12 data and policy senior analyst at EdTrust who specializes in policies related to increasing teacher diversity.
“In addition to teacher academies for high school students, we look at [states that are] recruiting paraprofessionals without credentials [because] the support staff is the more diverse base,” he said.
Is a Teacher Exodus Looming?
In the months before the pandemic, a report compiled by OSSE revealed that while teacher diversity in the District surpassed that of other jurisdictions, it didn’t reflect the student population, especially Latino students in wards 1 and 4.
Though the District retained teachers deemed effective and highly effective, special education and elementary education counted among the positions with the highest number of vacancies.
Throughout the virtual learning experience, teachers in public and public charter sectors have reported socioemotional stress and struggles to engage students in the majority-Black portions of the city. In March, the results of the DC State Board of Education’s All-Teachers survey hinted at the likelihood of departure among nearly half of teachers who responded.
That’s why, for Isabella Sanchez, a teacher at Garrison Elementary and EmpowerEd member, time remains of the essence in bringing more teachers, particularly those of color and those living in the District, into the District’s public and public charter schools.
“This is not just an issue in D.C. States have put money into grow-your-own programs that create a sustainable teacher pipeline in high school where you have students thinking about a career as teachers,” Sanchez said. “[It’s even] making it more accessible for paraprofessionals who want to be teachers but see the Praxis as a barrier. We can get this pipeline in place to remove those barriers.”