Teach for America’s recruitment of minorities leads to more diversity in the classroom

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This year, for the first time ever, minority children will represent half of the nation’s student body. Teachers, however, remain a mostly homogenous group of white women.

Teach for America (TFA), the organization that recruits young teachers to work in underserved communities, is looking to change that.

Fifty percent of the 2014 cohort of teachers identify as people of color, according to the organization. Nearly half of them received Pell Grants, which help low-income students pay for college. And about a third are the first in their families to attend college.

So how did the organization achieve such diversity? Targeted recruitment on college campuses.

“They put a lot of priority on [diversity],” said one former recruiter who wished to remain anonymous. “We were pretty straightforward with minority students. We’d say, ‘Listen, we know minority students turn into teachers kids can identify with more easily.’”

The students targeted by recruiters were mostly juniors and seniors. A recruiter who could convince a top-graded minority STEM major to apply was “top dog,” the former recruiter said.

Recruiters also targeted undocumented young people. Forty students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status will teach as part of this year’s cohort.

Teach for America’s recruitment success this year could provide a roadmap for traditional teaching programs as well, according to Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress. But few traditional teaching programs pursue such aggressive strategies to recruit minorities.

“Recruiting teachers of color isn’t rocket science,” Boser said, adding TFA has “made it an explicit goal.”

While it’s easier to sell young people on a two-year program than a career in teaching, TFA’s recruit formula could still work, Boser said. Targeted recruitment, building local alliances and offering scholarships is something all education organizations can do to help increase diversity, he said.

“These are not big-ticket items,” Boser said. “If we saw traditional teaching programs go this direction, I think we’d see an effect.”

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