This blog post is included as part of the “I Am a Philanthropist” series, which highlights different ways that philanthropy students hope to create social impact. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the ideas, views or opinions of LAAF.org
My philanthropic purpose is to ensure all children in the United States have high-quality teachers. As a former educator, I witnessed firsthand the disparities between students with and without privilege in our country. Time and time again I saw that the kids who deserved the best teachers usually got the worst: instructors who were inexperienced and under-qualified. This unsettling reality is both an issue of supply and allocation of resources. Why don’t we have enough quality teachers? Why aren’t our quality teachers more fairly distributed?
One reason for the shortage is that there are not enough people entering the profession. We are currently seeing the lowest percentage of education majors in 45 years. According to a 2016 study conducted by UCLA, only 4.2% of college freshmen were majoring in education, compared to 11% in 2000. At the same time, more people are quitting or retiring. Nationally, about 8% of teachers leave the profession every year, with most leaving for reasons other than retirement. While the teacher shortage is bad news for everyone, it has the most adverse effects for the least-advantaged children in our communities who tend to get the leftovers of the teacher pool. In fact, students of color are 3-10 times more likely to have an unqualified teacher than their white peers. This can be explained by a wage and workplace environment gap. Teachers in schools serving low-income and minority students are often paid less and experience less desirable working conditions, such as high student-to-teacher ratios, compared to teachers serving more advantaged students.
No single factor has greater impact on the lack of quality educators in schools than teacher attrition. In fact, by some estimates, teachers leaving the profession accounts for 90% of the unmet demand for educators. Research tells us that one of the best ways to combat teacher attrition is to invest in teacher training, since the quality and duration of preparation programs greatly impacts retention.
Among the most robust teacher training programs are teacher residencies, programs where new teachers are placed in the classroom of an expert mentor for an entire year of on-the-job training. My investment of my human capital in such a program is particularly impactful because what teacher residency programs in California need most of all is just that. The state recently passed new legislation that allocates $75 million in funding to launch or grow residency programs. Lots of schools and districts want to use this money, but they need experienced educators like me to make it happen. I can offer what those funds alone cannot: skills and knowledge to help train new teachers. What a great example of how in philanthropy, money certainly isn’t everything!