Classroom teachers school children elementary education teacher kids grade STANDING

Emily Banks from the U.S. Department of Education shadows teacher Lisa Jones at Watkins Elementary School in Washington D.C. as part of the Department's ED Goes Back to School events

In Washington state, there are thousands of people working in classrooms without complete teaching credentials.

If they get the support they need to be fully certified, they could be instrumental in staffing some of the hardest-to-fill teaching jobs — and could help bring more racial diversity to the state's mostly white teacher workforce, according to a report released this week.

The peer-reviewed report, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, was based on a 2017 state survey of more than 1,000 educators working on "limited" teaching certificates, which are one-year credentials that the state issues when a school can't find a qualified teacher to fill a job. The state's Professional Educator Standards Board emailed the survey to all 1,834 limited teaching certificate holders, and about 60% responded.

Two thirds of respondents said they were interested in meeting all the state's requirements to become a teacher — a finding that has major implications as Washington state principals deal a rising number of students and open classroom jobs, according to researchers from Education Northwest, the nonpartisan research firm that prepared the report at the Standards Board's request. The state measures its teacher shortage by looking at how many limiting teaching credentials it issues. Since 2013, the number has tripled.

The results of the survey led the report's authors to believe that getting partially credentialed teachers to the finish line could help with staffing issues and the demographic mismatch between teachers and their students.

"The solution is sitting in our backyard," said Jason Greenberg Motamedi, a researcher on the project.

The results are publishing now, the report's authors said, because it took years to get it published and peer reviewed, a process where other researchers evaluate a study's methods and findings.

Of those who were interested, nearly 70% said they wanted to teach in areas like science, special education and bilingual education, reportedly among the most difficult positions to staff. And though they made up less than a quarter of those who answered the survey, a higher percentage of people of color said they wanted to become certificated teachers compared with white educators.

If all who were interested ended up pursuing full teacher credentials in a given year, the report says, the state could see up to a 25% increase in the number of new credentials issued every year.

The cost and time of obtaining the certification, which requires paying for a teacher prep program and multiple tests, might be stopping them from getting all the way to a full credential. Seventy percent of the survey respondents reported making $30,000 or less a year, and cited concerns about how much time they would need to spend away from home.

Those factors are also among those that have kept Washington state's teacher workforce predominantly white, as Education Lab reported in 2018. Though almost half of Washington state students identified with a race other than white, their teachers were nearly 90% white. At the current rate districts are hiring teachers of color, it would take more than a century for the two groups to reach parity. Research shows students of color benefit academically from having teachers of color, potentially because they are more likely to set higher expectations, according to a 2015 paper published by the Economics of Education Review.

A 2017 study of more than 100,000 Black students in North Carolina, authored by researchers at American University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Davis, found that low-income boys who had at least one Black teacher in grades 3-5 were almost 40 percent less likely to drop out of high school and had a stronger interest in attending college.

In the past few years, the Standards Board pushed the Legislature to fund more grants for school districts that run programs to recruit future teachers from within their ranks. Last year, lawmakers removed the cut-off score requirement for the entry exam to teaching colleges because people of color disproportionately failed the test and couldn't afford the fees to retake them.

"Not every state is looking at [these solutions], even if they're struggling to find teachers," said Sun Young Yoon, a co-author of the report.