Questions – Why Teacher Diversity Efforts Are Complicated By Legacy Education Policies

There is still a lot we don’t know, and some things we do, about student achievement from last year, CRPE takes a look. 

Last month Tom Gold and I published “Window of Opportunity,” looking at how states and districts can use ARP dollars to focus on teacher diversity. We give an overview of the evidence suggesting why that’s an effective use of dollars and effort.

But two questions about structural issues are worth pausing on.

First, in many places “last in and first out” or LIFO policies work at cross purposes with diversity efforts. If, when there is a RIF or layoff, the last hired teachers are the first to go it creates a whiplash effect for teachers from underrepresented backgrounds assuming there has been a push to hire those teachers. They are often the least senior at that point.

Explicitly race-based layoff policies are a legal no-go, it’s different than hiring and the policy brief includes a short primer on legal. But there are a variety of other ways to think about layoffs than just LIFO. Effectiveness, credentials, shortage subjects/schools, special skills (for instance teachers who have experience or some sort of certificate around virtual learning) are all important markers that may matter more than pure seniority. There is some evidence that performance-based layoff policies are less likely to result in a decrease in diversity that across the board policies.

Second, it’s pretty well-established that a wealth gap exists in this country. After accounting for various transfers income inequality is not as pronounced some rhetoric would indicate, but there is a substantial intergenerational wealth gap – especially affecting descendants of American slavery. It owes to a variety of issues, including structural ones around real estate and access to various avenues of wealth building*.

So it’s worth a pause ask some questions. If your passion is teaching, that’s great, it’s a wonderful job and career that can genuinely impact and change lives. But, you’re going into a profession with a pension/retirement system that is inequitable and not well set up to support building wealth. And while teacher comp is probably higher than you heard on Twitter, it’s certainly not as lucrative a profession as many other BA or BA+ careers. In other words, pushing people to careers in education and concerns about wealth gaps and wealth building are to some extent at odds absent changes in public policy.

That’s the key takeaway: None of this is unaddressable in terms of public policy. LIFO is not some immutable fact of life and the structure of today’s teacher retirement system can be improved (look for more on that from Bellwether later this month). And none of it is a reason not to diversify the teaching force – again we just did  brief on exactly that. But it’s the kind of complexity that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle around various issues.

*Obviously education plays a role here, too.

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