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Supporting a New Generation of Diverse Teachers

July 23, 2019
In partnership with NewSchools Venture Fund, the foundation aims to ensure the nation’s teacher talent pool better reflects classroom diversity.

This is Lena. She is 5 years old. She has spent her summer playing with her little sister and staying cool in the sprinklers at the playground in her neighborhood.

In the fall, Lena will enter kindergarten at the public school down the street from her home.

The author's daughter, Lena, 5.

As Lena’s mom, I’ve scoured any available information on what to expect in the fall. I know that her class is likely to have a racial mix of students and that 83% of the teachers in her school have been in the district for four or more years.

What I can’t find online, and can’t simply assume, is that Lena will have a teacher who looks like her in elementary school. Or middle school. Or high school. I didn’t have one until college—the first time that I encountered mentors and advocates in whom I could see myself.

Last month, NewSchools Venture Fund, supported by the Walton Family Foundation, announced a competitive grants program geared to increasing the diversity of teachers in the nation’s talent pool. In the words of Alice Walton, “Our schools and students thrive when educators reflect the rich diversity of our country.”

As Frances Messano, senior managing partner at NewSchools wrote recently, “When students are taught by an educator who looks like them, they are more likely to feel seen, heard and understood, which leads to deeper relationships and greater student success.”

Students of color now make up a majority of K-12 classrooms nationwide, yet less than 1 in 5 educators identify as people of color.

While increasing teacher diversity just seems like the right thing to do, given that the today’s students are the most racially diverse in the history of our country, research also makes the case for the benefits of diversity: Greater teacher diversity yields higher expectations, lower discipline referral rates and better academic results for all students, and especially students of color. We have ample room for progress.

Students of color now make up a majority of K-12 classrooms nationwide, yet less than 1 in 5 educators identify as people of color.

At the Walton Family Foundation, we are committed to a strong education for every child—and to finding innovative approaches that help make that vision a reality.

For that reason, we are thrilled that this new, foundation-supported initiative seeking fresh ideas to diversify the talent pool of K-12 teachers has been met with a record number of applicants ready to help lead this change in their communities.

This interest sends a strong signal that bold and innovative leaders in education are hungry to recruit, develop and retain the next generation of great teachers across the country —and work to ensure these teachers reflect the diverse communities they serve.

For several years, the Walton Family Foundation has been investing in the recruitment and training of diverse education leaders. With this initiative, we are expanding our efforts to support leaders in the classroom as well. This decision acknowledges the essential role of teachers as educators and role models who can help expand students’ horizons in terms of what they can achieve not only in school, but throughout their lives.

Our partners at NewSchools Venture Fund are now tasked with selecting 14 bold new concepts and early-stage organizations from a pool of 143 national applicants, ranging from education nonprofits to charter schools to school districts to university programs.

It is our hope that the work these innovators undertake will affect teacher pipelines, hiring practices, policy development and classroom instruction across the country. The outcomes of these funded initiatives will be shared broadly with educators and policymakers, enabling others to learn from and launch their own successful approaches.

Supporting great teachers from a rich diversity of backgrounds is no overnight task.

Still, the work of organizations like the NewSchools Venture Fund, and the powerful response of education innovators to this opportunity, is proof positive that there exists a deep and broad commitment to ensuring students not only feel seen, heard and understood—but also see for themselves a brighter and wider world of opportunities ahead.

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