From High School to Teaching: Many Steps, Who Makes It?
by Emiliana Vegas, Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett - 2001
In this paper, we focus on the roles that race, ethnicity, and academic skills play in predicting whether high school students persist along each of the various steps of the path into teaching. We show that the challenge of creating a racially and ethnically diverse teaching force is not primarily one of influencing the occupational decisions of minority college graduates. Instead, the critical challenge is to increase the high school graduation, college enrollment, and college graduation rates of minority youth. We use a sequence of four samples originating in the sophomore cohort of High School and Beyond (1992). We explore high school sophomores’ career transitions along each step of the path into teaching--high school graduation, entry into college, college graduation, and entry into teaching.
Over the next 10 years, the nations teaching force will change dramatically as almost two million new teachers replace the large number of teachers who will retire or change occupations. What will the teaching force look like in the years ahead? Will it be racially and ethnically diverse? Will it consist of academically talented college graduates? Insights into the answers to these questions come from analyzing which high school students from the 1980s completed the long path into teaching. Steps along this path include high school graduation, college entry, college graduation, and, finally, entry into teaching.
In this paper, we focus on the roles that race, ethnicity and academic skills play in predicting whether high school students persist along each of the various steps of the path into teaching. Our aim is to provide descriptive evidence on the steps that form the path into teaching and to draw attention to the steps where minority group members are most likely to fall off the path into teaching.
We focus on the role of race and ethnicity in predicting who becomes a teacher because we believe that in our increasingly heterogeneous society, children need to observe that adults from different ethnic backgrounds can effectively hold leadership positions in our society. Moreover, particularly for students of color, effective teachers of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds may provide the inspiration and role models needed to succeed in school.
We focus on the impact of academic skills on entry into teaching because teaching well is a complex cognitive challenge requiring the ability to think and reason clearly. The positive correlation between teachers scores on standardized tests and the test scores or test score gains of their students found in a number of studies support the notion that standardized test scores are an indicator of relevant academic skills for teachers. Therefore, it is important to attract academically talented college graduates to teaching. At the same time, we do not equate the test scores of potential teachers with their teaching effectiveness. Effective teaching requires many skills not measured by scores on multiple choice tests of reading and mathematics.
We use a sequence of four samples originating in the sophomore cohort of High School and Beyond (HSB), a longitudinal survey that interviewed participants in 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, and 1992.
We show that the challenge of creating a racially and ethnically diverse teaching force is not primarily one of influencing the occupational decisions of Black, Hispanic, and Native American college graduates. Instead, the critical challenge is to increase the high school graduation, college enrollment, and college graduation rates of Black, Hispanic, and Native American youth. We also show that low academic skills in high school are a critical factor predicting why relatively low percentages of Black, Hispanic, and Native American students complete both high school and college.
Our analyses suggest that improving the academic preparation of African American and Hispanic high school students would close the gaps between their success rates relative to those of White students in achieving high school graduation, college enrollment, and college graduation. Raising the average academic skills of Native American high school students would also contribute markedly to the educational attainment of Native American students.
Focusing only on the occupational decisions of college graduates misses critical obstacles to developing a racially and ethnically diverse, academically talented teaching force. Increasing the number of Black and Hispanic students who graduate from high school, enroll in college and graduate from college is the key to increasing the representation of these groups in the teaching force. In fact, Black college graduates are much more likely to enter teaching than are White college graduates, and this is just as true for graduates with very strong academic skills as it is for graduates with weaker academic skills. The problem is that there are not enough Black college graduates and Hispanic college graduates. Too many students, especially African American, Hispanic, and Native American students, reach tenth grade without strong academic skills and, as a result, fall early from the path into teaching. Progress in solving this problem is the key to creating a racially and ethnically diverse, academically talented teaching force in the future.