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Educators Examine Racial Climate in Teacher Preparation Programs

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Despite a decades-long national need to racially diversify the teaching workforce, teacher preparation programs are fraught with pervasive racism and its harmful impacts on teacher candidates of color, according to an award-winning article co-authored by Cal State Fullerton education researchers.

The article titled, “Toward a Healthy Racial Climate: Systemically Centering the Well-Being of Teacher Candidates of Color,” was published in 2022 in the Journal of Teacher Education. Alison G. Dover and Nick Henning, both CSUF professors of secondary education, are co-authors of the article with faculty and graduate students from UC Riverside and UCLA.

The article has been selected to receive the 2023 Outstanding Journal of Teacher Education Article Award by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. The award, co-sponsored by Sage Publications, recognizes exemplary scholarship published in the journal that focuses on teacher training programs or teaching and learning, with implications for educator preparation. 

Dover, Henning and the article’s other authors will be recognized during AACTE’s 75th Annual Meeting Feb. 24-26 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“Awards like this underscore CSUF faculty members’ visibility and impact as scholars who shape educational policy and practice nationwide,” Dover said. 

The Well-Being of a Diverse Teaching Force

While there is an increasing emphasis on diversifying the teaching profession, teachers of color are still underrepresented in the teaching force. 

Most K-12 classroom teachers nationwide are white. As of 2020, the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that 79% of U.S. public school teachers identify as white, non-Hispanic. 

Research over the decades has shown that racism is embedded in the fabric of many teacher education programs, Dover noted. Teacher candidates of color have reported experiences of exclusion, segregation, displacement, silencing and ignorance. As a result, teachers of color often don’t complete credential programs or leave the profession early.

Alison Dover Street
Alison G. Dover, professor of secondary education

“While much has been published about racial climate in higher education, ours is the first article to look specifically at the unique aspects of teacher education,” Dover said. “This includes the relationship between a teacher education program and local school sites, or how teacher candidates are prepared to address racial injustice in K-12 classrooms.” 

Racial climate — the overarching racial culture of an organization — in teacher education can be evaluated across multiple dimensions, such as acknowledging and addressing legacies of racism, purposeful engagement that reflects and promotes racial literacy, and supporting the well-being of teacher candidates of color, Dover said.

“The article presents a conceptual framework that is designed to help teacher education programs reflect upon and take action to improve their racial climate. It also offers the opportunity to focus on the institutional and systemic factors that impact the experiences of students and communities of color,” she said.

The framework was vetted by teacher educators, teacher education program directors and deans of education from across the country. 

Assessing Racial Climate in Teacher Education Programs

In the article, the authors offer a number of reflective questions to guide teacher education programs in assessing their racial climate, as well as an aspirational model of what a healthy climate looks like in practice. 

“Our goal is not to provide prescriptive ‘answers’ regarding the best policies, but instead to invite diverse stakeholders to reflect upon the strengths and areas for growth within their programs,” Dover said.  

Overall, the authors define a healthy racial climate as one that is racially literate and supports the well-being, growth and retention of teacher candidates of color.  

At CSUF, the College of Education has a commitment to just, equitable and inclusive education and these themes are visible across teacher education courses, programs and policies. 

Nick Henning
Nick Henning, professor of secondary education

Nearly half, or 45%, of the students enrolled in the college’s credential programs are Hispanic/Latinx, a percentage that has increased over the last five years and has resulted in more candidates of color overall, Henning said.

“This is encouraging and is a strength of the college’s programs,” he added.

But both Dover and Henning relayed that more must be done by teacher education programs nationwide to create lasting change.

“As scholars and teacher educators, we are hopeful that this article, its framework of what might make a program’s racial climate ‘healthy’ for all and the questions it offers, will incite actions — actions that will be sustained for the long haul,” Henning said.

Research suggests that as important as representation is, simply diversifying the candidate pool is not enough to make meaningful progress toward racial justice, Dover added. 

“We must avoid silencing conversations about racism due to fear, discomfort or a desire to minimize its reality,” she said. “Instead, we must directly address the conditions that impact the daily lived experiences of students and teachers of color.”

Debra Cano Ramos