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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Report Examines Barriers To A More Diverse Wisconsin Teacher Workforce

Lynn Blue is an MPS paraprofessional who enrolled in a "grow-your-own" teacher preparation program. In this 2018 photo, Blue works with two students on a reading exercise.
Emily Files
Lynn Blue is an MPS paraprofessional who enrolled in a "grow-your-own" teacher preparation program. In this 2018 photo, Blue works with two students on a reading exercise.

Students in Wisconsin K-12 schools are rapidly becoming more diverse. But their teachers are not. Ninety-five percent of Wisconsin teachers are white, compared to about 70% of students.

It’s an important imbalance, partly because research shows students of color benefit from having at least one teacher who looks like them.

LISTEN: Students Of Color Benefit From Teachers Who Look Like Them, But 95% Of Wisconsin Teachers Are White

The Wisconsin Policy Forum has been digging into why the state has so few Black and brown teachers. Senior researcher Anne Chapman explored data and interviewed educators for her new report, Opening Doors: Strategies for advancing racial diversity in Wisconsin’s teacher workforce.

Chapman says there are three main stages in the teacher “pipeline” where students of color encounter barriers.

First, students of color face financial and cultural barriers when it comes to enrolling in college and earning a degree.

“[Colleges] have an institutional culture where if you’re a first-generation student, or if you grew up in a place where not very many people went to college, the culture on that campus is hard to navigate,” says Chapman. “They can feel like they don’t belong.”

The barriers extend into teacher preparation programs. For example, students of color have a harder time passing the standardized tests required to obtain a teaching license.

“Some of the tests we use in Wisconsin to admit people into the profession, if you look at the pass rates on those, you’ll see there’s a pretty systematic disparity by race,” says Chapman. “So there’s something going on there that’s screening out students of color.”

LISTEN: Same Race Teachers: MPS Students & Teachers Weigh In

Wisconsin also struggles to retain Black and brown teachers, who leave the profession at higher rates than their white counterparts in the first few years of their careers.

Chapman says compensation is one factor. There are also workplace issues teachers of color tend to face, including being “pigeonholed” as a disciplinarian in their school or assigned classes with more high-needs students.

The Policy Forum delves into a range of solutions in the report that Wisconsin could use to better support Black and brown teachers as they move through the preparation pipeline and into schools. Chapman says “grow-your-own” programs are a promising solution. The programs provide financial support for paraprofessionals to get certified as teachers while continuing to work at their home school.

Listen: To Build A More Diverse Teacher Pool, Milwaukee Programs Tap Teaching Assistants

“It provides all this support around them,” she says. “It helps them get their bachelor’s degree, get their teaching certificate, and gives them much more hands-on support with mentoring and coaching through those first critical years of a teacher’s career.”

But Chapman says programs aimed at increasing teacher diversity are piecemeal.

“The state has a really big opportunity to convene leaders throughout the education system in Wisconsin. Set teacher diversity as a top education priority, come together and establish a vision and some concrete goals … and then line up local efforts around that statewide vision,” she says. “And the local people we’ve talked to have said, ‘This is what we need.’”

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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