The United States is facing a rapidly worsening teacher shortage. In fact, the latest data show that shortages have grown 35 percent since this time last year. Even in times when the supply of teachers meets demand—a scenario not experienced since before the Great Recession—there remains a shortage of teachers from diverse backgrounds to fill America’s classrooms.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of teacher turnover—which is higher for Black and Hispanic teachers—have worsened, increasing the demand for new teachers. And now, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision limiting selective colleges’ consideration of race in admissions could have a chilling effect on the enrollment of Black and brown students. This would likely only exacerbate the existing shortage by limiting the diversity of the ranks of future teachers and school leaders in teacher preparation programs housed at selective institutions. The Hawkins Centers of Excellence are expanding the size and diversity of the teacher workforce to the benefit of schools and communities.
In this context, a long-overlooked federal program called the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence—which funds competitive grants for teacher preparation programs at minority-serving institutions (MSIs), including historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tribal colleges or universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs)—is more important than ever.
Having even one teacher of color during the K-12 school years can improve a child’s academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes
The importance of increasing teacher diversity cannot be overstated. Having a teacher of color has lasting positive effects on students’ academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes—and for all students, not just students of color. The most obvious factor is simply that these teachers provide a role model to students of color, who too often don’t see teachers who look like them. But research also shows that teachers of color are more likely to hold growth mindset beliefs, address student behavior productively without creating a negative classroom climate, and connect students’ cultures and life experiences with what is learned at school—which may be because of their own experiences in school and in life. The result is an increase in student engagement and achievement.
Furthermore, having teachers of color at a school can have positive effects on other teachers within a grade level. These effects then spill over and improve academic and behavioral outcomes for students as well.
In the 2020-21 school year, only 20 percent of teachers were people of color.
Unfortunately, the U.S. education system struggles to recruit and retain teachers of color. In the 2020-21 school year, only 20 percent of teachers were people of color. Yet in that same school year, more than half of all students were students of color. As the United States continues to become more racially diverse, policymakers need to invest in ways to diversify the teacher workforce.
How Hawkins Program funds can help diversify the teacher workforce
The Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence Program was authorized by the Higher Education Opportunity Act in 2008 but went unfunded until fiscal year 2022. This competitive grant program, which is open to HBCUs, TCUs, and other MSIs that have state-accredited teacher preparation programs, is intended to help increase and retain well-prepared teachers from diverse backgrounds. In two award cycles, about $24 million has been invested. These awards will serve about 2,000 teachers. Notably, MSIs confer more than 40 percent of all education degrees awarded to teachers of color, meaning the Hawkins Program has the potential to greatly improve teacher diversity.
In his FY 24 budget proposal, President Joe Biden called for doubling funding for the Hawkins Program to $30 million. In the House Republican Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies funding bill, however, the Hawkins Program was eliminated entirely. While budget discussions have since evolved and will likely continue to do so, that initial proposal makes clear the priorities of the House Republican appropriators, indicating that the Hawkins Program is vulnerable to being cut in the future.
While it is too soon to evaluate the results of the grants made so far under the Hawkins Program given the nature of the four-year grant periods, the 15 recipients are investing in measures that have proven to be effective. This small program has the potential to punch well above its weight; maintaining it should be a priority for policymakers.
Supporting targeted recruitment and wraparound supports
Ten of the 15 award recipients to date cite specific, targeted recruitment of certain demographics as a program goal. This targeted recruitment often includes a focus on bilingual or multilingual teacher candidates—an area of increasing need across the country. Some of the programs also mention the need to recruit more Black or Hispanic teachers in order to better match their local populations. This matters because evidence shows that for Black and Hispanic students, having a teacher of the same race is linked to positive outcomes such as higher standardized test scores, lower discipline rates, increased high school graduation rates, and increased likelihood of attending college.
Addressing common barriers faced by teacher candidates
More than half of the programs list a goal of easing or eliminating common barriers to entry into the teaching profession. One such barrier is the opportunity cost of student teaching. Student teaching is a field experience required of nearly all teacher candidates. While it does provide valuable experience, in many states and school districts, it is essentially a full-time, unpaid internship—work experience that students complete while continuing to pay tuition. This cost barrier is one reason why some teacher candidates leave after completing a significant amount of coursework.
Notably, the “leaky teacher pipeline” has been found to disproportionately affect teacher candidates of color, especially Black teacher candidates. Therefore, eliminating this barrier would likely increase the number of teacher candidates of color who complete their degrees and go on to run classrooms of their own.
This small program has the potential to punch well above its weight; maintaining it should be a priority for policymakers.
Many of the award recipients also list goals of providing wraparound supports for teacher candidates, including access to mental health services, housing and food assistance, and child care assistance. This strategy would mitigate other cost-related barriers to entering the profession and lead to higher program completion rates.
More than a third of the Hawkins grant recipients also want to provide multiyear support to their teacher candidates into their first years on the job. The most effective teacher induction and support programs, which are typically provided during the first years on the job, include mentorship by an experienced teacher. Having access to this mentorship early in a teacher’s career can help prevent burnout. Indeed, it has been shown to increase teacher retention and help new teachers become more effective faster than their peers who do not receive induction support.
Bolstering teacher residency programs
A third of the award recipients also cite strengthening or developing teacher residency programs (TRPs) in their program goals. TRPs are an alternative pathway into teaching that colleges and school districts partner together to offer. Teacher residents are usually paid a stipend and can qualify for tuition forgiveness or incentives, removing some of the cost barriers to becoming a certified teacher.
Unlike traditional teacher preparation programs, TRPs generally include an intensive, year-long residency experience alongside a mentor teacher. This format of field experience has led to increased diversity in the teacher workforce and higher retention rates, compared with non-TRP-prepared teachers. Considering existing TRPs place teacher residents in hard-to-staff positions such as special education and STEM roles, the retention of these teachers is especially valuable. Nationally, TRP cohorts are also much more diverse than the teacher workforce overall. In the 2022-23 school year, for example, 69 percent of teacher residents associated with the National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR) were people of color.
The Hawkins Centers of Excellence are expanding the size and diversity of the teacher workforce to the benefit of schools and communities. As school districts across the country grapple with worsening shortages, funding for this program must be maintained and expanded to provide opportunities for more teacher preparation programs to make a difference in diversifying the teacher workforce.