How having diverse teachers in our schools can increase students' positive outcomes.

Teacher diversity makes a difference for students. Increased academic achievement, reduced discipline, improved attendance, increased graduation and college attendance, as well as increased social-emotional outcomes like grit and sense of self-efficacy are all attributable to having diverse teachers in our schools. This data is evident in both nonwhite and white students.

The National Council on Teacher Quality recently released research showing gaps by state in teachers of color compared to students of color. Nationally, greater than 50% of public school students are Black, Hispanic, Native/Indigenous, Asian/Pacific Islander or mixed race, while 80% of the teacher workforce is white. In Oklahoma, 54% of our children are students of color, and 17% of our teacher workforce is of color.

The study goes on to outline the opportunities for states to take an active role in building diversity in the teacher workforce by building the pipeline of future teachers; offering incentives to attract candidates of color; supporting, retaining and developing teachers of color; and using data to set goals and track progress.

Pipeline programs have become very common across the country as Grow Your Own programs have gained popularity and effectiveness. Twenty-six states have established state-supported Grow Your Own programs and 20 of those focus on diversifying the teacher workforce.

The Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation started a Grow Your Own program, partnering with Oklahoma City Public Schools, the University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Community College, Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City and Rose State College in 2016 ― funded entirely through private donations to the foundation. Donors like OG&E, Devon, Bank of America, Express Employment International, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ray and Pat Potts and others understand the vast need for filling our teacher shortage, recruiting and retaining top quality teachers, and just how important building diversity in our teacher workforce is.

The Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation’s program has intentionally focused only on bilingual and BIPOC paraprofessionals employed by OKCPS since its launch. In 2022, the High School to Teacher Pipeline Program started, encouraging new graduates with the desire to become teachers to participate.

The program funds 100% of participants’ college tuition, fees and books. So far, 18 have graduated to become teachers and 65 are currently enrolled in the program. The pipeline is flowing, and the program is having an impact on the students being served and the participants taking advantage of the opportunity to fulfill a dream and change their own life and the lives of their families.

In addition to financial support, the Teacher Pipeline Program builds a community of like-minded individuals working towards a common goal ― serving their students. They maintain their full-time job while going to school part-time, but the increased value they bring to their classroom begins immediately. The program will be opening to all paraprofessionals in Oklahoma City Public Schools in summer 2024, but a focus on diversity will be maintained.

The beauty in the success of the OKCPS program is all about the development of new teachers that stay, and the benefits they bring to their classrooms. Another beautiful thing is that with some champions and hard work, this program can be emulated in any district in the state.

Our teacher shortage problems started more than a decade ago and require an all hands on deck approach to solve. That includes a realistic look at data for supporting our students in all the ways we can.

Mary Mélon-Tully
Mary Mélon-Tully

Mary Mélon-Tully is president and CEO of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation. 

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Guest: Having diverse teachers in schools increase positive outcomes