In this edition we shine a light on Laura Boyce who is a founding member of PEDC and the Executive Director at Teach Plus PA. To learn more about her incredible story and efforts please read the interview below.
PEDC’s mission is to increase the diversity of the educator workforce & create a culturally relevant and sustaining education system here in PA. How do you push this work forward in your personal and/or professional capacity?
Have you worked on any projects or initiatives that positively impact the recruiting, mentoring, retaining, or promoting the well-being of BIPOC teachers? If so, how?
Recruitment and retention of teachers of color and ensuring an equitable educational system are major priorities of Teach Plus, whose mission is to advance equity through teacher voice and leadership. We lead a statewide policy fellowship, which trains excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to propose and advocate for policy solutions to the most critical educational equity issues. Half of our policy fellows are teachers of color, compared to a statewide average of less than 7% teachers of color. In the past 2.5 years, our teachers have successfully advocated for several policy wins related to educator diversity and cultural relevance, including Senate Bill 99, the updated Ch. 49 teacher certification regulations, and PDE’s new educator workforce strategy. Teach Plus PA also recently launched a new partnership in Allegheny County called Equity Leadership Institute, where we’re working with six local school districts to bring together teams of teachers and administrators to make plans to diversify their educator workforces. We also lead a number of other instructional leadership programs that elevate teacher voice and teacher leadership, which we believe is one key lever for retaining teachers of color.
Teach Plus also leads the Policy & Advocacy Committee for PEDC, which has brought a diverse group of voices to state policy conversations and built policymaker support for measures to improve teacher diversity. Additionally, Teach Plus and NCEE have launched a new initiative called PA Needs Teachers to advocate for addressing teacher shortages and building a strong and diverse teacher workforce across Pennsylvania.
Why are you passionate about increasing educator diversity?
Working with teachers from across Pennsylvania, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the life-changing effects of teachers of color, especially for students of color (but also for white students), up close. The amazing teachers of color I work with every day confirm what the research also tells us: their perspectives, life experiences, and teaching techniques are critical and transformative for our educational system.
I remind people often that Pennsylvania has one of the most racially inequitable education systems in the country. Our school funding system creates huge racial inequities, recent research from RFA reveals huge racial inequities in educational opportunity, and NAEP data reveals that those inequities in inputs produce some of the largest racial achievement gaps of any state. And we also happen to have one of the largest racial disparities between our student body, which is 37% people of color, and our teacher workforce, which is 6% people of color. I strongly believe we are not going to achieve racial equity across our educational system in terms of inputs or outputs until we are able to recruit and retain an educator workforce that reflects the beautiful diversity of students in Pennsylvania.
“With Teach Plus PA policy fellows at the Capitol in May to advocate for SB 99 and other policies to diversify the educator workforce”
What challenges are you experiencing in this work?
Are there any regional (or statewide) specific challenges you are facing?
What are some of your needs?
The biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity: Pennsylvania is facing unprecedented teacher shortages all across the commonwealth, driven both by a dramatic decline in enrollment in teacher preparation programs as well as by pandemic-related accelerations in teachers leaving the classroom. I view this as the biggest threat to Pennsylvania’s future prosperity and well-being that we face today, which is really saying something. At the same time, we have a key window of opportunity where policymakers, district leaders, ed prep programs, advocates, and the general public are all paying attention to this problem and we may be able to mobilize a coalition to seize this moment to make fundamental and much-needed changes to public policy and the profession itself that will allow us to make teaching a more attractive and respected career choice for the next generation. So what we need is resources, advocacy partners, and policy champions to help us capitalize on this moment to catalyze transformative change.
Some other challenges include increased partisan attacks on teachers and restrictions on what they can teach (which disproportionately impacts marginalized students and teachers), political uncertainty due to an upcoming new gubernatorial administration and legislative session, economic uncertainty related to inflation and a possible recession, and partisan gridlock in Harrisburg.
Are you affiliated with any other organizations working towards addressing the recruiting, mentoring, retaining, or promoting the wellbeing of BIPOC teachers?
We work very closely with other partners from PEDC, including the Center for Black Educator Development, Research for Action, and many higher education partners. We work with district leaders and statewide associations across Pennsylvania that are very invested in this issue, as well as NCEE as part of the PA Needs Teachers campaign. We’re grateful for the support of funders that care deeply about these issues as well. And we’re encouraged that many other education advocates that have not historically been vocal on this issue, including those who work frequently on school funding, are talking more about educator workforce needs and teacher diversity in particular as priorities for their organizations and coalitions. Nationally, Teach Plus is part of the 1 Million Teachers of Color campaign and works frequently with partner organizations like Education Trust on these issues.
“Presenting at the PA Needs Teachers Summit in Harrisburg in September”
Did you attend the recent 2022 PEDC virtual summit? What were some valuable takeaways?
I was glad to attend and to have Teach Plus play an active role in the summit. In addition to me presenting PEDC’s 2022-23 policy priorities, Teach Plus teachers participated in a panel discussion on the importance of culturally relevant education for white teachers and presented workshops on their Culturally Affirming Schools toolkit and recent report on culturally relevant education in Pennsylvania’s ed prep programs. I always appreciate the summit because I make new connections and am reminded of the number of individuals and organizations working toward a common goal across Pennsylvania.
Have you used any of the PEDC available resources & toolkits? If so, how?
I helped to compile the PEDC recruitment toolkit, which focused on strategies for recruiting high school students of color into educator preparation programs in Pennsylvania. We’ve shared this toolkit with school and district partners across the state and will be using some of the strategies identified in the toolkit in our Equity Leadership Institute project in southwestern Pennsylvania. I also point people to Sharif’s retention toolkit all the time. Finally, I often refer to two products from the Policy & Advocacy Committee: our 2022-23 policy agenda and our 2021 guide for using ESSER funds to diversify LEAs’ educator workforces, which we’ve had the opportunity to share around the state.
“Speaking at the rollout of PDE's new educator workforce strategy in Harrisburg in July”
How can people connect with you and continue to follow your work?
Visit us on the web at www.teachplus.org/PA
Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @TeachPlusPA
Subscribe to our newsletter here
Join the Teach Plus PA statewide teacher network here
Learn more about the #PANeedsTeachers initiative
Welcome to the PEDC Member Spotlight! This monthly blog series highlights the diverse ways those in our community are progressing towards creating a culturally relevant and sustaining education system here in Pennsylvania.