Report Highlights Teacher Recruitment, Diversity Initiatives

by Sarah Wood - Diverse Issues in Higher Education

To address ongoing teacher shortages and increase the diversity of the teacher workforce, the state of Mississippi has launched Grow Your Own (GYO) initiatives, according to a New America report.

The report, "Mississippi's Multifaceted Approach to Tackling Teacher Shortages," analyzes the impact of the programs and offers strategies other states can implement.

Under GYO, Mississippi has developed local teachers and established a state-run teacher residency program and a pilot teaching licensure program.

"We decided that what [Mississippi was] doing was innovative and interesting and had lessons we thought would be beneficial to other states and localities," said Amaya Garcia, deputy director for English learner education with the education policy program at New America and co-author of the report. "We wanted to go there to learn more about their approach."

According to the report, from 2011 to 2016, teacher preparation programs in Mississippi declined from more than 5,000 students to 2,795 students. There has been a 50% decline in the number of licenses issued between 2011 and 2018.

"I think that's the other issue of what barriers are in place that are keeping some candidates out of the profession," said Garcia. "So how do we actually address those barriers and try to increase the teacher workforce … and really try to adjust to different kinds of students."

In 2018, close to half of the 1,067 vacancies in the state were in the Mississippi Delta. The Delta's school district has over 900 students from Pre-K-12 — 97% are Black and more than 50% live below the poverty line. Almost one-third of teachers in the district have a provisional license, which is temporary, the report said.

Garcia said one of the reasons for the teacher shortages in the state is a diminished interest in the teaching profession overall.

"It's been a very steady decline," she said. "Teaching is just not seen as this bright and shiny profession. It is a very challenging profession. In lots of ways, teachers are criticized. And so, I think that the incentive to be a teacher isn't there anymore."

In Mississippi, the Quitman County School District is using the GYO programs to recruit educators from the community to eventually teach there.

Additionally, the Professional Advancement Network for Teacher Assistants (PANTA) program assists paraeducators who are near completion or currently hold an associate degree. The program aims to increase access to the elementary education program at Mississippi State University (MSU) at Meridian.

Under the program, applicants are provided with a personalized plan to highlight needed testing requirements and prerequisites, and the courses are offered both online and in person.

The Mississippi Department of Education also launched a task force that includes representation from school districts, higher education institutions, philanthropic organizations and other businesses.

The task force recommended GYO be used in three areas including "high school teacher academies, paraeducator and classified staff pathways and community colleges and postsecondary institutions," according to the report.

In terms of the overall workforce, by 2025, Mississippi's goal is to increase the number of teachers of color from 27% to 32%. Recruitment will be focused on male teachers of color as they only make up 6% of the teacher workforce in the state.

To diversify the teacher workforce, the Mississippi Department of Education raised $4.1 million in support. The funding helped establish the Mississippi Teacher Residency program, which will recruit and place more than 100 new teachers over the course of three years.

"What I thought was innovative is the leadership that was being shown at the state level and they really saw their role as offering support," said Jenny Muñiz, policy analyst with the education policy program at New America and co-author of the report.

William Carey University, MSU-Meridian and Delta State University will partner with K-12 districts in the state. Last fall, universities began to enroll three cohorts of 12 residents each, the report said.

"Basically, there's no one size fits all model anymore," said Garcia. "Institutes of higher education, they're providing multiple forms of teacher education pathways. And this report kind of illustrates how they are doing that through partnerships, through philanthropic investments, through focusing on programs to prepare educators."

The report highlighted four main takeaways from the GYO programs — pilot and evaluate initiatives before expansion, adopt a data-informed strategy, establish a plan for short- and long-term funding and promote collaboration and coordination.

"Now, more than ever, we need teachers who are well prepared and able to quickly adapt to the changing education landscape," said Garcia.
July 13, 2020