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The research is in: students of color perform better when taught by teachers of color, and all students benefit when they have teachers from diverse backgrounds. But while over half of U.S. students are non-white, the educator workforce remains stubbornly homogenous. Almost 80% of teachers are white, according to the Department of Education; just 7% of teachers are Black, 7.8% are Hispanic and 2% are of Asian descent.

With a new round of grants, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) hopes to boost the diversity of the education workforce. CZI, which was created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, channels money to an array of causes including immigration, criminal justice, housing, scientific research and climate change. CZI has also made recent investments to promote racial equity and strengthen underserved communities.

In what it has called an “enterprise-wide effort,” CZI is shifting existing spending of $300 million over five years to advance its commitments to racial equity, and injecting $200 million more over the same period. This comes after criticism leveled at the grantmaker in 2020 over its internal practices and its association with Facebook.

Dating back much further than that, though, education has long been a priority for CZI. Last year, the grantmaker invested $5.8 million in support of Black and Latinx education leaders, and close to $7 million to support education equity. Now, CZI is topping those commitments with more than $9 million in grants to increase the number of educators of color.

CZI isn’t the only funder in this lane, of course. In 2015, NewSchools Venture Fund created a fund to address the racial leadership gap in education. NewSchools has invested $15.5 million so far, supporting “26,000 leaders, 71 percent of whom are Black or Latino, who collectively serve 27 million students,” according to the website. As IP has reported, Laura and Gary Lauder Family Venture Philanthropy, with support from the Walton Family Foundation, Schusterman Family Philanthropies and Spring Point Partners, recently invested in the Black Teacher Pipeline project. And last year, the Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education launched The 1954 Project, a pooled funding initiative to increase the number of Black education leaders.

Given CZI’s footprint, its investments could have a significant impact. And the commitment is coming from the top, as Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician who also worked as an educator, made clear when she announced the new grants at the National Alliance of Black School Educators conference in November. “An equitable education system means having diverse teachers,” Chan said.

Who’s getting the money?

The new CZI grants were awarded to 10 organizations, including Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity, Equity Institute, The Highland Project, The Hunt Institute, Innovation for Equity, The Liber Institute, the Black Voices for Black Justice Fund, the California Teacher Residency Lab, Digital Promise and School Board Partners. According to the announcement, the grants “support organizations with bold initiatives to ensure that educators at all levels reflect the communities they serve.”

Each grantee has its own approach. The Highland Project, for example, promotes Black women leaders. The Liber Institute supports Native American educators and education leaders. Digital Promise is working to close the digital learning gap, and School Board Partners aims to improve the education landscape for students of color by training and supporting diverse and “equity-minded” school board candidates.

CZI awarded The Hunt Institute $1.25 million to support its campaign to add 1 million new teachers of color nationwide and increase the number of school leaders of color by 30,000 by 2030. Earlier this year, Hunt teamed up with TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project), The Education Trust, Men of Color in Education Leadership, New Leaders and Teach Plus to launch the campaign.

The Hunt Institute was founded 20 years ago by James Hunt, the former governor of North Carolina. As governor, Hunt was an ardent supporter of public education. Javaid Saddiqi, The Hunt Institute’s president and CEO, says its new 1 million teachers of color coalition will tackle barriers—like high tuition costs and outdated licensure exams—that prevent diverse students from becoming teachers, or remaining in the profession.

Barriers to retention are harder to identify, but often involve an accumulation of experiences and expectations that drive diverse teachers from the profession. Saddiqi, who worked as a teacher himself, says that teachers of color are routinely asked to take on extra duties. “That’s part of the isolation of being one of the few teachers of color in a school building,” he said. “The Spanish teacher is pulled out of class to do translations, or the Black teacher is pulled out of planning period to talk to a Black student who needs help. These things happen in real time in schools and it’s a sort of invisible tax: All the extra hats that teachers and school leaders are asked to take on because they happen to be educators of color.”

In their recent report, “To Be Who We Are: Black Teachers on Creating Affirming School Cultures,” Shareefah Mason of Teach Plus and Sharif El-Mekki of the Center for Black Educator Development make a similar point, arguing that to attract and keep Black teachers, school cultures must be transformed.

After the CZI gift was announced, two more organizations, the Center for Black Educator Development and Latinos for Education, joined Hunt’s 1 million teachers of color coalition. “You get a funder like CZI that’s putting their stamp of approval on this conceptual framework—it’s a game-changer for us,” Saddiqi said. “It helps legitimize the fact that this coalition and the work we’re doing is important… Having this type of signal from philanthropy—the ripple effects are going to be profound. I’m really excited to see the ripples coming back from this big pebble CZI has thrown in the pond.”

The teacher they never had

Another CZI grantee, the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (BranchED), focuses on teacher preparation. The organization works with minority-serving institutions (MSIs) to strengthen teacher preparation and increase diversity. (MSIs include historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, Latino-serving institutions and Asian-American-serving institutions.)

Cassandra Herring, the founder, president and CEO of BranchED, pointed out that MSIs play an outsized role in training teachers of color. “These institutions constitute about 13% of all teacher prep providers in the country, but they prepare a disproportionate number of teachers of color—nearly 49% of our teachers of color,” Herring said.

Herring previously worked as dean of the college of education at Hampton University, an HBCU. When she first took the job, she wanted to build and improve the program, but found that there was no platform to share ideas with educators working at other MSIs. She started BranchED five years ago hoping to fill that gap. “BranchED brings people together to think about how we can partner with one another and share innovations and thought leadership,” she said.

Herring believes preparation programs can play a key role in building the pipeline of teachers of color. “Teacher prep providers in this space have a responsibility to make sure that we are not just attracting more candidates of color, but that we are truly serving them in our programs,” she said. “Just like we would like K-12 schools to use instructional materials that are representative of a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds and honor different kinds of families and communities, we have to model that in teacher preparation, too… So it’s not just about getting candidates in the door, it is about the DNA of the program itself.”

Herring has met many aspiring teachers, and her conversations with them underscore why it’s so important for students to have teachers who look like them. “When I was a dean, I used to always ask my students, ‘Why education? Why did you choose teaching?’” Herring said. “Many of my colleagues say, ‘Our students want to be great teachers like the great teachers they had.’ My experience with my students was the exact opposite. Many of them wanted to become teachers—wanted to be in education—to right the wrongs of their own experience. In fact, to be that teacher they never had.”