Pittsburgh Public Schools and Community Partners are establishing another way to improve the low percentage of teachers of color in the predominantly black school district.
At a meeting on Wednesday, the district council approved a new program that will provide about 35 full college scholarships to high school graduates who commit to teaching in the city for five years after earning their degrees.
After a 2018 report on the number of teachers of color in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Public Schools took notice, said Alexis Howard, director of the district’s talent management.
Pennsylvania had the sixth worst ratio of teachers of color to students of color. And the research at that point was clear: All students do better when there are teachers of color, but especially black and brown children. The list of measurable improvements includes better attendance, fewer discipline issues, and higher graduation rates.
Pittsburgh Schools Pittsburgh [PPS] It employs a higher proportion of diverse teachers than the state as a whole but is still lower than the national average. Less than one in five teachers at PPS are black or brown while two out of three students are.
The problem, Howard said, is the difficulty in attracting qualified black candidates to the city. The district went to a job fair in Atlanta, for example, and only received three applications. Many people who grew up in a place like Washington, D.C. or Philadelphia don’t see many people who look like them in Pittsburgh. “Listen, if you’re a person of color, you don’t move to this town,” she said. “It’s bigger than the school district, it’s about the city as a whole.”
One of the advantages of Pittsburgh, Howard said, is that many of the people who grew up here will stay. Some families live in the same house for several generations. Howard herself returned to Pittsburgh after attending college in South Carolina to be close to the family.
The scholarship program is the new addition to a suite of efforts to diversify the city’s teachers.
In 2019, the district began a program to help paraprofessionals, who are predominantly black, become certified teachers. Point Park University and Carlow University offer both distance and blended options, so that assistants can continue to work while earning their degrees.
Howard said 21 assistant assistants started the program last year, and 20 are on track to finish this year. They will be allowed to apply for positions alongside other teachers within the district before interviewing external candidates during the 2022-2023 recruitment process. About two-thirds of the program’s Auxiliary Assistants are not white. “This is a victory,” she said.
If hired, these new teachers will represent about 1% of the teacher workforce next year.
Also in 2019, the district committed to offering teaching positions to graduates of the Magnetic Teaching Program at Brashear High School, as long as they returned to teaching within 10 years. The Brashear program graduates about 25 students annually, depending on the district.
The 2018 Teacher Diversity Report showed that the education system is missing out on many potential black teachers at every step of the process: in high school, college, educational programs, recruitment and retention of teachers.
The newly unveiled scholarship program is designed to encourage any PPS students interested in returning to teach in the area.
Debbie and William Demchak donated $1 million to this new effort. (William is the Chairman, President, and CEO of the PNC Financial Services Group, and Debbie is the Secretary to the Pittsburgh Promise Scholarship Board.)
The scholarship will provide 100% of the recipient’s college costs, after all other scholarships and grants have been applied. They will leave college without debt.
Recipients must commit to a teaching major, attend a university where they can teach at PPS and then teach at PPS for five years after graduation.
“This is a huge request,” said Saleem Gabriel, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise Foundation, which will administer the grant. Such a large commitment may mean that only a select few will be interested and eligible; Gabriel said there is enough funding for about 35 recipients, and he expects all scholarships to be awarded in four years or less.
A key part of the program is keeping students engaged through potential points many of which deviate from the teaching track, Gabriel said, and the scholarship will provide incentives for recipients to participate in the program through the college. There has been talk about the possibility of converting grant money into loans for any researcher who dropped out before completing their full commitment. Instead, they decided to try to attract scholars to engage in local education so that it would be natural for them to remain to teach.
For example, recipients – called Demshak Scholars – will be paid to attend the Pitt Educators Academy, a five-week educational training after the junior or senior year of high school. They will also have professional development during the college’s spring and winter breaks. They will get paid to teach during their summer college years, either at PPS or as mentors for the Pitt Educators Academy, building their network in the Pittsburgh learning community.
“We believe that Demcak scholars will be highly sought-after candidates for teaching,” Gabriel said. “And all of these programs are again about building that network and the relationships that make it natural,” I’m going to teach when I graduate. “
To be eligible to apply, students were required to have attended PPS since 9th grade, maintain a 2.5 GPA and an attendance record of 90%. The application says that preference will be given to students of color, especially black students, as they make up the bulk of the students in PPS.
PPS board members Pam Harbin and Devon Taliaferro raised concerns at last week’s board meeting that scholarship guidelines would disqualify many black students, who currently have too low a GPA to qualify. Gabriel said academic requirements are an important part of the process for selecting a good teacher.
Gabriel said hundreds of PPS students of color are currently eligible for the Pittsburgh Promise Scholarship and will be eligible to apply for the Demchak Scholarship.
The scholarship application opens in February and must be completed by March 21, 2022.
A press conference is scheduled to officially announce the new grant at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
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Initiatives to promote teacher diversity are good but not enough on their own, said Sabina Foote, the new chair of the new Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh.
“This kind of approach does not change the whiteness of the system,” she said. “It brings them in but forces them into unchanging systems, so people leave the teaching profession.”
The country lost more than 40,000 black teachers in the decade following Brown v. Board of Education as school districts moved students away from black schools in the name of assimilation. As a result, Foote said, the country has lost an entire generation of black education leaders.
Pete has started a new program to try to restore black education systems by partnering with a black high school student, a black college student, a young black teacher and an experienced black teacher, she said. The idea, she said, was to move away from the factory system of teacher training toward a collective system rooted in black education methods. The program begins with four “micro-educational societies” in the Woodland Hills School District this year, but plans to expand to eight groups and include PPS over the next four years.
“Having black teachers is essential and having black teachers teaching from and being supported in the tradition of the black curriculum,” she said.
Oliver Morrison is PublicSource’s K-12 Education Reporter. It can be accessed at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter Tweet embed.
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