A recent study from the National Council on Teacher Quality suggests Indiana could do more to attract and retain a diverse teacher workforce. However, some state legislators said hiring and retaining diverse teachers has not been a high priority for the state.
The NCTQ study found states that publish diversity data find more success in hiring diverse teachers.
Shannon Holston, NCTQ chief of policy and programs, said Indiana – which does not publish diversity data – could further diversify its teacher workforce by making that information available.
“We believe just publicly stating that it's important and setting a goal can help catalyze action around this issue,” Holston said.
Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) said diverse teachers are crucial for student success in schools.
“Diversity is very important because if you are able to connect to the students and to identify with them culturally and to understand their experiences, then you can do a better job of meeting the needs of the students, a better job of motivating the students, and understanding the students,” he said.
Smith added that identifying with their teachers can encourage students to think about entering the profession themselves. Indiana’s education job board listed more than 2,300 open teaching positions across the state on Friday afternoon.
“That's important that they see that this is doable for me, that this is not something for others, but something that I can do,” Smith said.
Smith said Indiana should change the way it licenses teachers because it can prohibit people of color from being able to join the profession. He said there should be more of a focus on teachers’ skills and abilities than licensure testing.
“I don't think that in the state of Indiana we are really concerned about teachers,” he said. “I think the scholarships are icing on the cake. If we were concerned about having teachers of color in classrooms, then we would address the problems that we're having with the core exam, the practice exam, because that has become the glass ceiling keeping teachers of color out of classrooms.”
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Indiana has two different scholarship programs for people of color who want to become teachers, but Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) does not believe they are not enough to encourage students to pursue teaching. He said the state needs to create more financial incentives for people of color to become teachers and remain in the profession.
“We've lost 25,000 students at our state universities. I don't know the statistics, but obviously a significant number of those will be minorities,” he said. “We're putting fewer people through college when our policy, our stated policy, is the opposite. So we need to get that straightened out, and when we do, in the process, it will lift up everybody.”
DeLaney said encouraging people to become teachers is only half the battle. There is nothing keeping Indiana teachers in the profession or preventing them from leaving the state after they get their degree.
He said student loan forgiveness could also draw people of color to the profession. However, he is concerned there will be little action from the state, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that affirmative action is unconstitutional.
“We may not win this fight, but if we do, it's going to take a lot of time from the time a person first thinks of being a teacher till they get through the program and become one and then become some sort of a model,” he said. “It's a long haul, so let's get everybody thinking about that.”