Another consequence of the COVID pandemic has been the mass retirement of teachers of color, adding another layer to the complexity of the U.S. education situation.
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System reported a 26% increase in teacher retirements in the second half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
Of those surveyed, more than half cited the challenges of teaching during the pandemic as their primary reason for retiring. A national survey released by the National Education Association on February 1 found that 55% of teachers planned to retire earlier than planned, up from 37% in August 2021. The numbers were highest among black educators (62%) and Latinos (59%).
As Kaiser Health News reported, the problem became apparent in January 2021, when face-to-face classes resumed in Southern California. More than a quarter of students were absent in some large districts in the first week. Some of those who returned to the classroom were without their teachers, replaced by under-qualified substitutes.
Also, as has been the case in all industries, the teachers most affected by the pandemic have been teachers of color, who, while improving educational outcomes for students of color, are forced into early retirement because of lack of support and poor working conditions.
A U.S. Department of Education report found that although students of color are expected to make up 56% of the student population by 2024, the elementary and secondary educator workforce remains overwhelmingly white.
To make matters worse, retention of teachers of color is impacted by the fact that teachers of color tend to work in under-resourced urban schools with higher teacher turnover rates due to retirement or to leave the profession.
According to a 2019 study by the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group in Palo Alto, the shortage affects 80% of California school districts, most severely those with low-income families and students of color.
Coupled with that, online learning due to the pandemic has contributed to the difficulties for teachers of color.
In July 2020, the University of Southern California and Partnership for Los Angeles Schools surveyed more than 1,100 families in the Los Angeles Unified School District whose children attend historically low-income public schools and found that about 1 in 6 had no Internet access and about 1 in 12 only had Internet on their cell phones. In addition, 1 in 7 said they never had a space free of noise or distractions.
Meanwhile, teaching in person with the threat of Covid is “living in a constant state of anxiety” because a single positive test in the classroom can disrupt all teaching plans in a second, Katie Caster, manager of curriculum and assessment at Latinos for Education in Boston, told KHN.
Caster said teachers of color have an added burden. “I call it the brown tax. They have to go above and beyond all the time, whether it’s the cultural connection, the language, being asked to translate, or connecting families to resources,” she said. “The pandemic has exacerbated the problem.”
With information from Kaiser Health News.