The value of student-teacher matching: Implications for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

Graduates of The City College of New York stand at their commencement ceremony in Manhattan on May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Gabriela Bhaskar - RC1BEA7E4900

Ongoing negotiations in Congress about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) have direct implications for increasing the ethnoracial diversity of our country’s educator workforce. Initially signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 as part of his larger Great Society initiatives and most recently reauthorized in 2008 by President George W. Bush, one of HEA’s primary goals was to increase access and opportunity to higher education for our nation’s historically marginalized students.

While HEA provisions are more commonly associated with how students access federal funding to pay for college (e.g., federal Pell Grants and work-study programs), the initial HEA and subsequent reauthorizations have had clear implications for pre-service teachers as well as for the institutions that these aspiring teachers attend. For example, Title II of the legislation, which is named “Teacher Quality Enhancement,” focuses on a range of policy levers aimed at improving the preparation of pre-service teachers and providing opportunities for in-service teachers to engage in ongoing professional development.

As of Congress’s summer recess, both the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the House Committee on Education and Labor have yet to put forward a bill on which the Senate and the House could vote. Given both chamber’s current deliberations—coupled with ongoing national conversations about recruiting, supporting, and retaining teachers of color—I provide policy recommendations for the reauthorization of HEA aimed at increasing the ethnoracial diversity of our country’s educator workforce. I focus exclusively on Latino and Black teachers given the convincing body of qualitative and quantitative evidence pointing to, what I term, the “added value” of Latino and Black teachers for Latino and Black students.

The Added Value of Latino and Black Teachers for Latino and Black Students

Qualitative researchers have long documented how Latino and Black teachers have been able to attend to the social and emotional needs of their Latino and Black students. This qualitative research continues to influence more recent quantitative research: Schools with many more Latino teachers increased the likelihood of Latino students taking more advanced placement and international baccalaureate courses, compared with Latino students in schools with fewer Latino teachers. And, Black students perform better on math and English classroom assessments when they were taught by Black teachers compared to Black students not taught by Black teachers. In this working paper, I provide a more exhaustive list of the evidence that points to the added value of Latino and Black teachers for Latino and Black students in this publication.

Given the evidence described above, I encourage Congress to focus its attention on Title II: Teacher Quality Enhancement; Title III: Institutional Aid; and Title VII: Graduate and Postsecondary Improvement Programs.

Title II. Teacher Quality Enhancement: Increasing Teacher Residency Programs

In future reauthorizations of HEA, Congress should create a permanent line item that funds teacher residency programs. During the 2008 HEA reauthorization, Congress allowed for the creation of Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grants, which supported the initial development of teacher residency programs. In a teacher residency program, pre-service teachers, also known as residents, receive a stipend while spending one full-year working alongside an experienced teacher and taking graduate coursework, which leads to certification. Teacher residencies enroll a larger percentage of people of color when compared to more traditional certification programs; moreover, over time, the students in residents’ classes perform better on standardized exams. Additionally, residents have higher rates of retention when compared to their peers trained in traditional preparation programs. A reauthorized HEA should include permanent funding to increase teacher residency programs, as well as support the development of current teacher residency programs, given the evidence of success that such programs have had recruiting teachers of color and the impact that teacher residents have had in increasing academic outcomes for their students relative to traditional preparation programs.

Title II. Teacher Quality Enhancement: Professional Development for Teacher Educators

To enhance the quality of preparation that pre-service teachers receive—pre-service teachers of color, in particular—a reauthorized HEA must also include attention to deepening the capacity of teacher educators to prepare novice teachers. To do this, a reauthorized HEA should include block funding to institutions of higher education to develop an understanding of the dispositions and skills needed to prepare high-quality teacher candidates. Teacher preparation program curricula often lack coherence, as the result of teacher educators rarely having the time and space to co-plan and subsequently redesign their programs. Thus, incentivizing teacher preparation programs to provide access to professional development opportunities for teacher educators will be essential in order to enhance the quality of pre-service teachers entering the field. Moreover, to ensure that pre-service teachers of color have access to high-quality teacher educators, a block grant competition set aside to grow the capacity of teacher educators should provide preferences to preparation programs that have demonstrated an ability to retain and graduate teacher candidates of color.

Title III. Institutional Aid: Strengthening Minority Serving Institutions’ Teacher Preparation Programs

A reauthorized HEA should include a new line item that provides institutional aid to Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), Historically Black Graduate Institutions (HBGIs), and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) that commit to increasing the number of graduates entering the teaching profession. Similar to Title III’s Part E: Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program, which aims to increase the number of people of color who enter STEM-related fields, the proposed Part H in Title III is intended to provide additional resources to traditional teacher preparation programs in Minority Serving Institutions (MSI). Awards should be based on grant applications in which teacher preparation programs receive funding to develop robust recruitment campaigns to attract prospective candidates into the profession. Grant funding should also include resources for faculty professional development and a stipend during pre-service teachers’ practicum that equals the salary of a paraprofessional or assistant teacher in the school where the pre-service teacher is teaching. Priority should be given to MSI preparation programs that have a minimum of six months of student teaching required to receive certification.

Title VII. Increasing Grants to Students in Attendance at Institutions of Higher Education

The reauthorized HEA should incrementally increase the TEACH Grant for eligible recipients from its current amount of $4,000 to $8,000 over the next five years. Teachers who receive the TEACH Grant commit to teaching high-need subjects in high-poverty schools for four years. Given the reality that Black and Latino teachers are concentrated in high-poverty schools as compared to their white peers, increasing incentives to enter the teaching profession may serve as leverage for recruiting teachers of color. Moreover, Black and Latino students have a greater college debt burden than their white peers. While it is true that Latino college graduates do not experience any difference in student debt when compared to their white, Latino degree holders have more difficulty in repaying loans due to lower wages and the likelihood of gaining employment after graduating. Consequently, providing additional incentives, in the form of grants, to prospective teachers of color should increase the number of teachers of color who enter and remain in the profession—to everyone’s benefit.

To be clear, I do not suggest that the approximately 80 percent of white teachers who comprise the U.S. educator workforce have no place in working with students of color. Clearly, some white teachers create high-cognitive, demanding, engaging, and relevant content to historically marginalized students of color. However, given the evidence on ethnoracial matching between students and teachers, policymakers working on the HEA reauthorization of must identify the levers available within the purview of that act to increase the number of our nation’s Latino and Black teachers.