Effective teachers play a significant role in the overall success of students. Among school-based factors, a high-quality teacher has been shown to have two to three times the impact on student achievement as curriculum, leadership, and other services. Over the last three decades, the Abell Foundation has prioritized strategies that have increased the number of effective teachers recruited and retained in Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools). In fact, the Foundation played a critical role in the launch and growth of three key alternative teacher preparation programs in Baltimore: Teach for America (1992), the Baltimore Teaching Residency-TNTP (1997), and Urban Teachers (2009).
In recent years, a call to diversify the pool of teachers has been supported by research demonstrating that all students benefit from having teachers of color. In particular, Black students are significantly more likely to enroll in college when they have a same-race elementary teacher for even a year (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2018). Furthermore, these students in classrooms with teachers of color are more likely to be enrolled in gifted programs, less likely to be suspended or drop out, more likely to aspire to a four-year college, and more likely to achieve at higher levels (Dee, 2004; Gershenson et al., 2017; Grissom & Redding, 2016; Lindsay & Hart, 2017).
Unfortunately, the supply of teachers of color has failed to keep pace with the need. Enrollment in traditional university-based teacher education programs has declined over the past decade, particularly among candidates of color. In an effort to enact more rigorous entrance requirements to the teaching field, policymakers added testing and financial barriers that inadvertently negatively impact candidates of color. Also, Black teachers have been less likely to stay in urban schools due to issues ranging from stress in classrooms to a perceived lack of support and sense of community to low salaries.
These factors have led to large gaps in the racial and ethnic composition of teachers versus their students: In Baltimore City, 92% of public school students are non-white (and 79% are Black) while only 43% of teachers are people of color. Black teachers are more likely to leave the school system, and are half as likely as white teachers to be promoted to Model Teacher, an accreditation that helps retain experienced educators in the classroom.
City Schools has responded with urgency, launching the Black Teacher Recruitment and Retention Initiative to increase and maintain diversity in Baltimore City’s teacher workforce, with a priority for African American teachers. With continuing support from the Abell Foundation, alternative teacher preparation programs, with their capacity for nimbleness, have responded quickly and creatively to these challenges.
Urban Teachers aims to improve the educational and life outcomes of children in urban schools by preparing culturally competent, effective career teachers who accelerate student achievement and disrupt systems of racial and socioeconomic inequity. Urban Teachers launched a new model of teacher preparation in 2009, recruiting outstanding college graduates, training them in a year-long clinical preparation, and linking their certification to demonstration of effective teaching practices and student learning gains. With a 2019 Abell grant of $100,000, Urban Teachers implemented a new digital recruiting and marketing initiative that more efficiently targets talented and diverse candidates, with a focus on men, STEM majors, people of color, and speakers of multiple languages. In its first year, the campaign increased the percentage of incoming teachers of color from 51% to 56% while maintaining the cohort’s high academic qualifications. As importantly, 37% of new teachers are local to the Baltimore community. From an operations standpoint, the new marketing approach is projected to cut the cost of recruitment over time by 40%. Abell funding also supported the implementation of Urban Teachers’ Black Educators Initiative, which will accelerate recruitment and retention by providing tuition scholarships, financial assistance, mentoring, clustered placement, and peer support to exceptional Black candidates and current Black teachers.
TNTP: Baltimore Teaching Residency
TNTP is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to end the injustice of educational inequality by providing excellent teachers to the students who need them most, and by advancing policies and practices that ensure effective teaching in every classroom. With a focus on career-changers, TNTP has recruited, prepared, and placed an average of 110 nontraditional teachers annually in Baltimore City Public Schools since 1997. Its efforts, both policy and programmatic, to increase the number of high-quality teachers of color entering Baltimore City and Maryland public schools have resulted in a pool that has averaged 50% Black and 60% people of color.
With a $50,000 grant from the Abell Foundation, TNTP pushed the state to adopt new teacher license regulations that remove certification barriers and advocated for the removal of financial barriers for all new Maryland teachers of color. Thanks to TNTP’s advocacy, the Maryland State Department of Education approved a new state testing policy last year that enabled new teaching candidates to submit a 3.0 undergraduate GPA in lieu of passing a Praxis Core basic skills test, which was found to disproportionately affect Black candidates.
At the same time, TNTP is improving program-related recruitment and retention within its Baltimore Teaching Residency. National funding has enabled Baltimore Teaching Residency to launch the Black Educator Excellence Cohort. This program provides a monetary stipend to qualified new teachers to attend the summer pre-service training and offers a year-long mentoring experience to retain Black teachers through to the second year of teaching.
As a result of these policy and program initiatives, there has been a 50% increase in Black educators, representing 65% of the cohort who entered the Baltimore Teaching Residency in 2020. TNTP aims to retain 86% of that cohort through the first two years of teaching.
Teach for America: Baltimore
Since 1992, Teach for America Baltimore has been recruiting diverse talent to City Schools, developing strong leaders, and supporting those leaders for a lifetime. Today, there are over 1,100 TFA alumni living in Baltimore with the majority of them working in education on behalf of Baltimore’s children. Of those, nearly 600 are City Schools teachers, touching the lives of half the students enrolled in the school system.
TFA was an early supporter of expanding teacher diversity, and a 2019 Abell Foundation grant of $125,000 enabled TFA Baltimore to deepen that work. In recent years, local recruiting at Baltimore/Maryland colleges and ongoing cultivating of candidates of color have resulted in more than half of TFA Baltimore corps members identifying as people of color and roughly 30% identifying as Black. In addition, 41% have qualified for Pell Grants; another 55% speak a language other than English.
Also, TFA recently launched the Black Educators Promise initiative, which specifically invests in increasing the number of Black educators in the Baltimore network. When Black corps members accept Baltimore for corps service, they are given a financial stipend of $600 upon arrival at pre-service training. Like other teacher preparation programs, TFA hires alumni teachers to tutor candidates of color in need of support to pass certification tests and covers costs associated with study materials, practice tests, and test retakes. All Black second-year TFA corps members are eligible for a $1,000 grant when they commit to teach for a third year.
Several years ago, TFA institutionalized a professional learning community that successfully aided candidates to strengthen their applications for Model Teacher status. Now, TFA alumni teachers are working with City Schools and the Baltimore Teachers Union to offer support to all Black teachers who are applying for model teaching certification. Finally, TFA has been a pioneer in fostering affinity spaces for Black, Latinx, and Asian American/Pacific Islander corps members and alumni to connect informally over community dinners and provide peer-to-peer networking support and professional coaching.
Information published March 2021.