PARAEDUCATORS COULD BE THE KEY TO INCREASING WA TEACHER DIVERSITY
The vast majority of Washington’s teachers are white (89%). Almost half of the student body are students of color (46%).
Studies show that students benefit from a diverse teaching workforce.
Helping paraeducators become fully certified teachers can help reduce educator shortages and increase the number of bilingual teachers and teachers of color.
Washington is a nationwide leader in paraprofessional teacher training.
WASHINGTON STUDENT BODY MUCH MORE DIVERSE THAN TEACHERS
In Washington, the vast majority of the teaching workforce is white (89%), while the student body is increasingly made up of students of color (46%). As covered by the Seattle Times and Columbia Reporter in a multi-part investigative series, school districts across the state are struggling to employ teachers that reflect the demographics of their students.
WHY A DIVERSE TECHING WORKFORCE MATTERS
Research proves the numerous positive effects of a diverse teaching workforce. For instance, The Seattle Times noted a study which showed that low-income, black boys who were taught by at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 were almost 40% less likely to drop out of high school and showed a stronger interest in attending college.
Teachers of color also help ensure that students of color are receiving the services they deserve. A recent study showed that African-American children are three times as likely to be placed in gifted education programs if they have a black teacher rather than a white teacher. This benefit is especially relevant in Seattle Public Schools where the Highly Capable Cohort is disproportionately white.
It is clear the state needs to be working to diversify their current teaching workforce. But how?
PARAEDUCATORS MORE ACCURATELY REFLECT THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE STUDENT BODY
We took a look at Washington education workforce data and it shows that paraeducators could help Washington diversify its K-12 faculty (most recently available data is from 2015/16).
The above graph shows that the proportion of paraeducators of color is nearly double that of teachers. Additionally, developing teachers who already live and work in the school’s community is an important strategy for reducing the educator shortages that exist across Washington state.
WASHINGTON LEADS ON PARAEDUCATOR PIPELINE
Washington state is a leader in new initiatives to build paraprofessional-to-teacher pipelines (see reports from New America and The Learning Policy Institute at Stanford). Communities across Washington have implemented “Grow Your Own” programs, which recruit, train, and support potential teachers from communities that school districts serve. For instance, Highline School District runs a program that serves bilingual paraprofessionals and helps them achieve an elementary education endorsement.
The State of Washington Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB), released a report highlighting the early success and potential of Grow Your Own (GYO) programs in Washington and across the United States. In part by designing programs to serve paraprofessionals, Colorado and Illinois were able to increase their statewide teacher roster by 166 and 150 respectively over the past 4-5 years, with more candidates in the pipeline.
Grow Your Own programs are a good start to increasing paraeducator training. From our review of the research and current programs, we’ve compiled a few additional recommendations to strengthen paraprofessional pipelines:
Create career connected learning for paras and aspiring paraeducators (including high school students) to create an educator industry pathway.
o For instance, the Academy for Rising Educators (ARE) is a new program created through partnership between Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Central College, and the City of Seattle’s Seattle Promise Scholarship. It gives Seattle Public Schools juniors and seniors the opportunity to take courses and participate in internships that fulfill prerequisite requirements for becoming a paraprofessional.
Include paraprofessionals in aligned professional development, evaluation, and career ladder systems to recognize their contributions and set them on a path toward full accreditation.
Expand alternative teacher licensure and certification that utilize performance and competency-based approaches especially for paraprofessionals who already have a BA and teaching experience. (The last two recommendations were suggested by bilingual paraeducators in focus groups conducted by New America)
Finally, it’s important to call out that paraeducator training is only one lever to increase teacher diversity. To reach teacher-student demographic parity, we must continue to support students of color to complete high school and to graduate from postsecondary educator training programs. And similar to issues in the private sector, school districts should continue work to dismantle barriers and biases within their hiring processes.