For the second year in a row, very few students of color received a prestigious Indiana scholarship designed to attract new teachers.
Out of 200 high school seniors and current college students who received the Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship this year, only five come from under-represented minority groups, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education said.
It’s a “disturbing” problem, education leaders say, that both perpetuates the dearth of diversity in the teaching ranks and shows the state’s efforts to reach students of color are falling short.
“As hard as it is to talk about these numbers, I’m actually grateful that we’re looking at them,” said Teresa Lubbers, the state higher education chief. “We really are committed to trying to do more, but we could use help.”
The scholarship, aimed at top academic performers, is worth $7,500 per year — $30,000 over four years, which would cover most of the tuition at a state university — and comes with a commitment to teach in Indiana for five years. It was created in 2016 to address Indiana’s teacher shortage by encouraging high-achieving students to go into teaching by ensuring they could graduate with less debt.
But last year, in the scholarship’s inaugural year, just 11 out of 200 students were students of color. And this year’s class is even less diverse.
It’s a microcosm of the overall lack of diversity among teachers in Indiana and across the nation, and it highlights the challenges states face in attracting a diverse teaching staff. In 2016-17, only about 5,000 of Indiana’s 71,000 public school teachers — or 7 percent — were teachers of color, according to state data.
But, in contrast, about 20 percent of Indiana’s population is nonwhite, according to the most recent Census numbers. Indiana’s public schools are about 32 percent nonwhite. Even in Indianapolis Public Schools, which serves mostly black, Hispanic, and multiracial students, most teachers are white.
Research shows that students of all races benefit from having teachers of color, and that black students who have even a single black teacher are more likely to graduate.
Experts say the lack of teacher diversity makes it harder to recruit future teachers of color. Without many teachers who look like them, students of color might not aspire to teach, might not be encouraged to teach, and might be deterred by the implicit biases and lack of cultural competency in less diverse schools. For some of the same reasons, schools often also struggle to recruit male teachers.
That’s all in addition to other obstacles to drawing people to teaching, including the low pay, lack of respect for the profession, and chronically changing mandates on what teachers are supposed to teach.
“Frankly, people admire what they see,” said Mark Russell, education director for the Indianapolis Urban League. “If they don’t see blacks in positions of authority or being teachers, it sort of reinforces a myth that they are inferior. That under-representation has negative implications.”
Russell criticized the state for not doing enough to reach diverse teaching candidates.
“It does not seem like they made a concerted effort,” he said. “To me, that’s not acceptable. You have to show real intent to be diverse. It has to be intentional — not just, ‘Oh, if we can get that along the way, that would be fine.’”
Lubbers said the state partnered with organizations to promote the scholarship among students of color, including the Indianapolis Urban League, the Center for Leadership Development, and the Indiana Latino Institute.
“I think there are definitely more people who could qualify for the scholarship,” she said. “I think it’s more a matter of getting the applications.”
The state also reached out to all of the recipients of the Minority Teacher Scholarship, a need-based grant named after longtime black lawmaker William A. Crawford. The scholarship, which the state awarded to 164 students in 2016-17, is worth up to $4,000 each year with a lesser postgraduate teaching commitment and less stringent academic requirements.
But many recipients of the Minority Teacher Scholarship did not meet the academic standards for the Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship, the state said.
Recipients of the Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship must be in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating classes, or have ACT or SAT scores in the top 20 percent. They need to enroll in college full-time and maintain a 3.0 grade-point average. If they don’t fulfill their commitment to teach in Indiana after graduation, they must repay the grant.
The state spends $1.5 million each year on each class of scholarship recipients. This year, with two classes, that’s a $3 million public investment.
Ken Britt, senior vice president and dean of the Klipsch Educators College at Marian University, questioned why more students of color did not receive the scholarship. He noted that several prospective Marian students from diverse racial backgrounds did not win the scholarship.
More than 500 students applied for the Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship, the state said, including 32 minority candidates.
“Everyone is well deserved,” Britt said. “They’re in the top 20 percent of their class. So it would be interesting to see why some of these minority students didn’t get the final scholarships.”
Marian has used the scholarship as a tool to encourage students to pursue teaching, Britt said. But he added that the state should put a greater emphasis on attracting minority candidates during its application process, which includes in-person interviews.
“There are really talented minority students out there who want to become educators,” Britt said, adding that there needs to be “collective efforts to identify those students and push them into the classroom.”
Indiana’s teacher preparation programs at state universities are overwhelmingly white. But Marian has recently tried to improve its recruitment of minority teaching candidates in order to better prepare educators to work in Indianapolis schools, and it is about halfway to its goal of an incoming freshman class made up of 40 percent students of color, Britt said.
For Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship recipient Dayla Bedford, her experience as a multiracial student in Indianapolis schools is both what led her to teaching — and what will help her connect with students, because she can tell them, “I’ve been there.”
Dayla, 18, switched schools often but kept coming back to Howe High School because of the teachers who helped guide her during times of instability. She wants to make changes in education, she said, after seeing how labeling a school as “failing” discounted the intelligent students inside the building.
As a first-generation college student, Dayla said the scholarship — along with others — made it possible for her to afford to attend Indiana University-Bloomington.
Dayla said she wants to return to Indianapolis to teach in the same community where she grew up.
“I’m a product of public education in Indianapolis, and I see the need, specifically in urban communities,” Dayla said. “And I know that’s where I want to be as a teacher.”