Letter to Kirwan from the Black Teacher Recruitment and Retention Working Group

November 29, 2018

Dear Chair Kirwan,

As members of Baltimore City Public Schools’ Black Teacher Recruitment and Retention Working Group, we are writing to share input related primarily to the High Quality and Diverse Teachers and Schools Leaders working group of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission). For the last six months, we have collaborated as teachers, other educators, school district leaders, advocates, and community members and engaged in public conversations with more than 200 individuals in Baltimore.

Our focus has been exploring how to increase the number of Black teachers in Baltimore City Public Schools, which is both at a ten-year high as a percentage of the district’s teacher workforce and still significantly lower than it was twenty years ago. The Commission’s January 2018 preliminary report mentioned the need to make special efforts to recruit a more diverse teaching workforce and indicated a belief that students benefit from having teachers who “look like me.” Research, including a study just named in the Baltimore Sun last week, continues to affirm that children benefit from Black teachers. We would like to see the Commission more specifically and explicitly address the needs of Black students and Black teachers.

Our work with this group has uncovered several areas of concern that we hope the commission will address in its recommendations. Our work has focused on Black teachers but many potential strategies would more generally benefit all teachers.

From our work so far, we believe that retaining Black teachers could have an even larger impact on high-quality teacher shortages than recruitment as a lever. In our Working Group discussions, we have heard of concerns that align with national data on reasons that Black teachers leave teaching. Our discussions as well as the implications from those data point us to the following recommendations:

Teacher Mentoring. We would like to see significant additional investment in teacher mentoring. The State requires new teachers to receive multiple years of mentoring, but we know that when mentoring duties are on top of a full teaching load, the depth of mentoring that is possible is limited. We also know that in some schools with high turnover, it is sometimes difficult to identify a seasoned teacher to fulfill the mentoring requirement. The demands of teaching across our state are significant, and we know that new teachers need more support. We would like to see funding for full-time mentors, especially in schools serving high numbers of students living in concentrated poverty. Previous Commission mentions of the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program in multiple Maryland LEAs aligns have spoken to this interest.

Understanding Trauma. In addition to the Commission’s recommendation in Working Group #4 that there be training for school staff on understanding trauma, we would like to see funding for strategies that help prioritize relationships and healing from trauma. We would like to see funding for training in culturally responsive pedagogy and relationship building through restorative practices. We’d also like to see adequate investment in social workers and mental health support staff.

Certification. We know that the Commission has been interested in increasing the quality of teachers through additional gateway exams for attaining certification. We disagree with this approach and hope that the Commission will focus more on supporting teachers in becoming great through mentoring and minimize requirements for initial certification that have no proven correlation with teacher effectiveness. The Praxis is already a barrier for many Black teachers, and for many other teachers. While we share an interest in raising the bar and the prestige of teachers, we would like to see the certification requirements more closely resemble skills that relate to being a good teacher. The kinds of exams proposed now by the Commission have resulted in a narrowing of teacher preparation courses elsewhere, which is not helpful for creating prepared teachers. Instead of more rigid entry requirements, we need more flexibility to be able to find and support people with a range of talents.

Black Teacher Pipeline. We would like to see the Commission extend the Maryland Career Ladder for Educators to include a pathway for paraprofessionals and high school students to become state-licensed teachers. These groups include much higher percentages of African Americans than the current Maryland teacher workforce and the graduates of university-based Maryland teacher preparation programs. We would like to see a funding stream to support students and paraprofessionals who wish to become teachers, including to make higher education more affordable for these individuals with interest in serving as teachers.


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Advocacy Work

Our Advocacy Work is a result of what we hear from our fellows as they tackle issues in their schools and in response to larger national and local trends. We couple teacher and parent feedback with other research to help us advocate for better policies and practices. We attend school board meetings and host community forums around how to create more equity and inclusion in school decision making.

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