Redefining Teacher Quality to Recruit and Retain the #TeachersWeNeed

As California’s students and families of color grapple with the aftermath of remote learning and their disproportionately negative learning outcomes attributed to lost instructional time and disruptions to educational and social services, a critical conversation emerges—how does the state ensure that students of color are centered in our ongoing recovery efforts? Further complicating this imperative is the dual challenge of the well-documented teacher “shortage” and lacking diversity among the educator workforce to meet the evolving needs of students, families, and the state.

Through Ed Trust-West’s examination of data and our engagements with educators and communities of color across the state, the stark disparities in the racial makeup of California’s students and educators present a glaring problem – and a clear solution. With 80 percent of students in the 22-23 school year identifying as students of color,1 and only 40 percent of educators from the 21-22 school year reflecting that racial diversity, it’s clear that California can and should do much more to diversify its educator workforce. 

In addition to a racial mismatch between the student body and educator workforce, why is diversifying who educates our children an urgent need for California? Research consistently shows that racially and linguistically diverse teachers are the most effective in the classroom, especially with students of color.  Black educators, for example, are most effective, as demonstrated by grades, test scores, suspension rates, and other metrics, for all students and, in particular, Black students. California needs to concertedly improve student academic engagement and achievement, and diversifying the educator workforce is a critical strategy. 

While California’s leaders must do more to recruit and retain educators who reflect the diversity of our students, an important component of this work must be shifting our definition of educator quality so that the unique skills and knowledge diverse teachers possess are centered, rather than devalued and diminished, which is often the experience of professionals of color due to racial biases and systemic racism. 

Data shows that professionals of color – no matter their field of expertise – receive lower quality perceptions and ratings due to racial bias that is rooted in systemic oppression. For us, the call to action is clear: California’s leaders must proactively rethink educator quality by centering the values of students and families of color and emphasizing an inclusive process for defining what high quality means. State leaders must also elevate the unique skills, competencies, and experiences of educators of color in the definition of quality that reflects their assets, given their impact on improving the outcomes of marginalized students. 

This approach to redefining teacher quality will support workforce diversification and improvement efforts and must apply to all teachers – including White teachers – so that the entire workforce is held to research-backed standards of quality.

1 56% Hispanic or Latino, 5% African-American, 0.4% Alaskan Native or Native American, 0.4% Pacific Islander, 2% Filipino, and about 10% Asian.

The concept of teacher quality must be redefined to acknowledge educator traits and practices common among teachers of color that research shows have been particularly effective for students of color. For example:

Cultural Competency
An asset-based approach to defining teacher quality must embrace that educators are more effective when they value their students’ diverse cultural perspectives and see their rich backgrounds as assets to be celebrated and leveraged. Quality instruction, therefore, includes using an identify-affirming curriculum and instructional strategies that support fostering a sense of belonging and engagement, which are necessary for academic success.

Linguistic Diversity
All educators should aim to create an inclusive classroom where linguistic diversity is celebrated and valued, ensuring that students from various language backgrounds have equitable access to the curriculum. While linguistically diverse educators of color might have a predisposition to do this well, all educators should align their instruction to support and cultivate linguistic diversity and language development. Resources aligned to the California English Learner Roadmap and California English Language Development Standards should be utilized at all levels of instructional design and in every classroom.

Community Relationships and Advocacy
Teacher quality is deeply rooted in community engagement. Building caring relationships with students and families is necessary to support student success and is best facilitated when educators understand and actively collaborate with the communities they serve. Educators of color are uniquely situated to best serve communities of color. An asset-based approach encourages community engagement, fosters partnerships that bridge the gap between schools and the diverse communities they serve and creates positive change.

An inclusive approach to redefining teacher quality in California, one that centers on these competencies, has the potential to empower educators and students, improve teacher retention and satisfaction, and support student success through holistic educator development and support. 

As California addresses the continued ramifications of a teacher shortage and the imperative to diversify the workforce, the focus must not be on recruiting any teacher but strategically recruiting and retaining highly qualified, diverse teachers—the #TeachersWeNeed. Together, we can build a future where diversity is not just acknowledged, but celebrated, creating a foundation for a more inclusive and equitable educational journey for all students in California. 

If you are interested in joining our effort to collaborate on redefining teacher quality, please fill out this form with your thoughts and make sure to sign up for updates from our upcoming #TeachersWeNeed campaign!


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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.