Giving Compass is teaming up with SolutionsU, a platform that connects you to stories about responses to the world’s challenges. SolutionsU is a project of the Solutions Journalism Network: a nonprofit organization that seeks to rebalance the news, providing readers with critical reporting on society’s problems and stories that explain how individuals, institutions, and communities are responding.

Want to learn more about solutions journalism? Giving Compass interviewed David Bornstein, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, who helped break it down for us.

This week, we are featuring a collection of solution journalism stories from their searchable database, focusing on "plugging the leaks" to diversify the teacher workforce.

Michael Hansen writes in the Hechinger Report, “The cards are stacked against public schools ever having a truly diverse teacher workforce. And unless we find a way to plug these leaks — all of them — we will make little headway toward closing our diversity gaps in the decades ahead … [We will be stuck] in the same vicious cycle in which low teacher diversity contributes in a myriad of ways to low minority student success in K-12 and college, which results once again in low teacher diversity.”

The issue has been covered extensively in the American media. Coverage resumed with renewed urgency in 2014, when, for the first time, there were more minority students than white in America’s schools. As classrooms diversified, the teachers at the front of the room had not followed suit. In fact, from 2002 to 2012, the share of black teachers actually decreased — Philadelphia saw a 20 percent dip, while Chicago faced a 40 percent decline. Researchers have cited a range of reasons for stagnant and declining rates: closure of urban schools where minority teachers are concentrated, changes in certification procedures that disproportionately hurt minority test takers, and the continuing expansion of career paths available to middle class black communities.

How important is it that students are exposed to minority teachers? Articles feature studies showing that when black students learn from teachers that look like themselves, they are more likely to be identified for talented and gifted programs and to graduate from high school. Further, Adam Wright of UC-Santa Barbara found that if schools doubled the ranks of black teachers, the black-white suspension difference would be halved. Plus, being the only black teacher in a school poses serious challenges for those teachers - black teachers have reported being led into a disciplinarian role or tasked with individually mentoring all students of color.

In tackling this same problem, veteran teacher Gloria Ladson-Billings said in an interview with Mother Jones, “The way a problem is defined frames the universe of possible public actions.” Gelani Cobb followed up in The New Yorker, “The current language of educational reform emphasizes racial ‘achievement gaps’ and ‘underperforming schools’ but also tends to approach education as if history had never happened.”

For instance, the current trends I just documented don’t fully situate the present crisis in its historical roots. Some publications have worked to weave this background into the present narrative, but more often the story meets the fate Cobb describes.

Before the court-mandated integration of America’s schools, there were 82,000 black educators; by 1965, 38,000 black teachers and administrators in Southern States were out of work. Today, the minority teachers that do exist mirror the segregated nature of the students’ themselves — the average black teachers instructs in a school where three fifths of students are low-income compared to their white counterparts for which only a third of students are low-income.

But even as we understand and acknowledge the roots, because of pervasive and longstanding patterns of structural discrimination, we are stuck with this "vicious cycle," somewhat of a chicken and egg conundrum. At what point do we intervene to “plug the leaks”? Which leaks do we plug? Is it possible to plug all of them?

How you can make an impact in this area:

Consider grantees that prioritize bilingualism. As more schools in the U.S. find ways to integrate immigrant and refugee students, it’s imperative that those in the education sector find ways to build inclusive learning environments. This starts with making sure teachers can speak many different languages (for instance, this Chicago DACA instructor helps undocumented students address their anxiety). Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees is a consortium that has resources dedicated to this area.

Help restore balance to teacher-student demographics. According to a New Schools Venture Fund study in 2017, there is a vast gap between the number of black and Latino preK-12 students compared to black and Latino educators. Not only that, but an FSG study shows that matching black male students with black teachers in grades 3-5 can boost high school graduation rates. That’s why programs and initiatives that emphasize diversity in teacher hiring practices should be prioritized. Urban Institute has examined the school instructor pipeline to see where the opportunities lie.

Focus on selective recruitment programs. The Center for High Impact Philanthropy has a comprehensive guide for funders who want to improve teaching quality across the U.S. Among the suggestions is to look for organizations that have a rigorous and selective recruitment (or “pre-service”) process, with an emphasis on diversity. Teacher residency programs in high-need districts are particularly cost effective.

Read the full story collection about diversifying the teacher workforce by Emma Zehner at SolutionsU.