Educator Diversity Act: What You Need to Know

A Summary of H.549: An Act Relative to Educator Diversity 
By Meghan Volcy, Associate, The Rennie Center

Recent data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) show that students identifying as non-white make up 45.6% of the Massachusetts student population, a five percentage point increase from 2018. Despite this increase in the diversity of the student population in Massachusetts, DESE also reports that only 7.8% of teachers identified as BIPOC (defined as, and inclusive of, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) in 2022. This gap in representation within Massachusetts classrooms can be attributed to several factors, including, but not limited to, financial barriers to higher education and educator preparation programs, challenges navigating the state’s licensure system including the MTEL (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure), and limited public accountability for the results of school and district efforts to recruit, support, and retain educators of color.

Research shows that access to teachers of color results in academic and personal benefits for students (particularly Black and Latino students), such as improved academic performance, lower discipline rates, and higher graduation rates. Yet efforts to increase students’ access to diverse educators have run up against a host of barriers. Inequities in their own educational opportunities, coupled with the cost of educator preparation programs and test prep, can keep talented prospective educators from pursuing the profession. Licensure exams also serve as a barrier for some: according to recent data, “close to half of Black or Hispanic teaching candidates fail the Communication & Literacy Skills MTEL test, compared to 20 percent of white candidates.” And for teachers of color who do make it through the certification process, they can then be met with low salaries, feelings of isolation due to a lack of peer or administrative support, workplace discrimination, trauma and anxiety (sometimes termed “racial battle fatigue”), and other social and economic factors that reduce the likelihood of their staying in the classroom. For instance, one survey found that 41 percent of teachers of color reported that they were likely to leave their job before the end of the 2021-2022 school year, compared to 31 percent of white teachers.

These barriers to recruiting and retaining teachers of color negatively impact not only the educators themselves, but also the education workforce as a whole–and, most importantly, students. To provide students with a culturally responsive educational experience where their identities are represented, stakeholders must come together to provide the necessary supports for educators of color to reach and succeed in teaching positions.

As critical conversations and attempts to diversify the educator workforce have intensified, Boston-based organization Latinos for Education has convened the Massachusetts Educator Diversity Act Coalition, which includes stakeholders in the education space and legislators who are passionate about this issue. This coalition has pushed for legislative change through the passage of the Educator Diversity Act. While iterations of this bill have been drafted and amended since it was first filed in February 2021, the Rennie Center has analyzed the version currently being considered in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. A similar bill is also being considered in the state Senate, S.311, though the text below refers exclusively to the House version.

Where We Are: Setting Goals & Establishing a Foundation

The bill instructs districts and schools to plan and set measurable goals for diversifying their educator workforces.

      A. Setting Educator Diversity Goals (Section 5) 
The bill calls for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to set measurable educator diversity goals for districts and schools across the entire state.

       B. Establishing a Diversity Plan (Section 2)
The bill requires each district and charter school to develop a three-year diversity plan that has specific diversity goals and timelines for reaching them. To create uniformity in diversity planning across the Commonwealth, districts that already have a diversity plan included in their Student Opportunity Act plan may use that to meet this component of the bill. All plans will have to be updated after the first three years. 

DESE will develop the guidelines districts and schools must follow in creating their plans. To do so, DESE will collaborate with relevant, representative stakeholders like experts in education and diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as school leaders who have been successful in diversifying their educator workforce. Under DESE’s guidelines, diversity plans may aim to achieve various goals, such as identifying and eliminating discriminatory barriers to hiring, correcting the effects of any past discriminatory practices, and retaining and promoting employees belonging to underrepresented identities. DESE will also develop a process to review district and school diversity plans based on clear criteria, and districts and schools will need to amend their plans if DESE finds they do not meet the aforementioned requirements.

DESE will create periodic reporting requirements for districts and schools as they implement their diversity plans. The Department will also provide assistance to districts and schools to ensure they remain in compliance with state and federal laws. 

All approved educator preparation programs must also implement diversity plans to increase the diversity of those who complete their programs, a critical step to broaden the pool of prospective teachers. These publicly available plans will become codified as part of the educator preparation program approval process. 

How We’re Moving Toward Our Goals: Measuring Progress

The bill establishes accountability measures districts and schools across the state will have to implement to ensure they are promoting educator diversity in the workforce.

       A. Creating a Data Diversity Dashboard (Section 5)
The bill states that DESE will collect statewide educator diversity data and report it publicly in an online dashboard that will be developed in consultation with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The dashboard will report the number of educators hired and retained who meet DESE’s educator diversity goals, the racial demographics of educators who complete educator preparation programs in the state, and teacher qualification data pulled from district and school report cards. Each school and/or district will collect and report on its individual educator diversity data, sharing this information with DESE through preexisting state reporting mechanisms.

       B. Establishing a Diversity Team (section 4)
This bill requires each school district to identify a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officer or to establish a diversity team that will report directly to the superintendent. Districts can hire someone new for this role, or existing employees or entities can be appointed to this position so that districts are not required to create a new full-time role.

The bill also calls for each school district to develop a process by which they will advise the governing school committee or board of trustees on DEI issues in the district. A proposed practice in the bill is to establish a diversity council made up of educators, administrators, and students that meets regularly with the superintendent, the district DEI officer or team, and the governing body.

Lastly, the bill will require all superintendents, school committee and board of trustees members, district leaders, principals, and district employees to complete a diversity and implicit bias training course on a regular basis (the frequency of which will be decided by DESE at a later date).

How We’re Taking Action: State Support & Guidance

The bill outlines practices and programs that the state will develop to support not only districts and schools, but also educators themselves, in order to build a more diverse teaching staff and expand opportunities for employment in education.

       A. Alternative Certification Pilot and Hiring Requirements (Section 1)
The bill requires DESE to develop a five-year pilot program that provides an alternative educator certification process that differs from traditional testing requirements (i.e., the MTEL). Candidates for certification will be able to earn a preliminary certification that can become permanent after four years of proficient teaching experience. Proficiency in this context will be measured by student growth scores as well as other factors determined by DESE.

This alternative certification process will allow candidates to receive a waiver for one of the two testing requirements, either the MTEL Communication & Literacy Skills test or any specific subject matter test(s). It will also allow DESE to consider other factors when determining candidates’ eligibility to receive certification, such as whether the candidate has obtained certification in another state approved by DESE, demonstrated an impact on student growth when serving as a certified educator outside the state, completed a satisfactory portfolio of sample work (including deliverables such as student feedback and competency-based projects), or obtained an advanced degree in a relevant content area from an accredited institution. 

Only districts that meet certain criteria will be eligible to hire alternatively certified candidates. In particular, districts must demonstrate either a demographic disparity between the student and teacher populations, a shortage of teachers who can serve English language learners, or a critical need to fill teacher vacancies. Furthermore, only up to 10% of a district’s teaching staff can be alternatively certified.

Once piloted, the alternative certification process will be evaluated by DESE to see its effects on student learning (e.g., by examining student growth scores), progress made in diversifying the educator workforce (seen in the demographics of participants as well as hiring, evaluation, and retention rates), and the impact on participating candidates who come from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.

       B. Vocational-Technical Teacher Training Standards (Section 3)
Currently, to gain a preliminary license to teach in a career and vocational-technical education setting (depending on the field), candidates must complete high school or higher education, provide documentation of employment experience in their field, possess an occupational license or certification, and pass a vocational subject matter test as well as the MTEL. The bill calls for the state to develop competency standards for new vocational-technical educators. To lower the barrier to entry in the vocational-technical teaching profession, aspiring vocational-technical educators will have the choice between passing written and performance tests or showing proficiency through an alternative method determined by state officials.

     C. Educator Diversity Grant Program (Section 7)
In 2019, DESE piloted the Teacher Diversification Pilot Program to provide funding to districts to diversify their workforce through practices like tuition assistance, loan repayment, and signing bonuses. This bill would expand and codify the impact of that work, calling on DESE to establish an educator diversity grant program to assist schools and districts in establishing programs for recruiting, retaining, and promoting educators from diverse backgrounds. These grants can be used to implement practices such as in-house teacher residency programs or other pathways that recruit, develop, and support under-represented teacher groups. DESE will periodically report to the legislature on the impact of this grant program.

The Educator Diversity Act includes immediate and long-term steps to address barriers to entry and advancement that teachers of color face as they move through their careers.

For more information about this legislation, check out Latinos for Education’s Educator Diversity Act Coalition landing page, which features testimonies from educators of color and ways to take action. Latinos for Education is also hosting an Educator Diversity Act Campaign Kickoff on March 30th at 4:00 PM ET.