My mother was my first role model.
She was a force to be reckoned with: compassionate, industrious, fearless, and resourceful. When my mother brought my sister and I to the U.S. after we ran from a bloody military coup in Liberia, she emphasized the value of education and pushed us to learn as much as we could.
I finished high school at Aurora Central. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Metropolitan State University of Denver and my Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Colorado Denver. Like my mother, I believe that education is still the key to a bright future.
But it can be difficult to chart your own path to success when the teachers and educators you see around you don’t look like you. Throughout my time attending school in Colorado, I constantly wished I could have seen more diversity among my teachers. This year, my first in the Colorado Legislature, I’m introducing a bill that will take an important step toward guaranteeing that Colorado’s teachers look like Colorado.
In Colorado in 2019, 76% of all teachers were women and 67% of those identified as white women. Student demographics in CO are significantly more diverse and will continue to become more diverse in the years to come. For example, in 2019, nearly 47% of all public school students identified as non-white and 14% of students considered themselves to be English language learners, meaning they grew up speaking a different language at home.
In Colorado and across the country, we’ve known for a long time that educator diversity is a pressing issue that demands our attention. Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix. There are many barriers to preparing, recruiting, and retaining a high-quality, diverse educator workforce: one barrier is how teachers are licensed.
A study by the national council on teacher quality reported that only 46% of elementary school teaching candidates pass their licensing test on the first try. Only 38% of black teaching candidates, 54% of Hispanic teaching candidates, and 75% of white teaching candidates pass the licensing test, even after multiple attempts and even though they completed and graduated from an accredited teacher preparation program.
Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and I are sponsoring HB21-1010, which would create a workgroup that would research ways to prepare, retain, and recruit diverse educators and make recommendations to the Senate and House Education Committees. Teachers from different backgrounds can offer students unique perspectives and new teaching methods.
I want to ensure that all of Colorado’s students have the opportunity to learn from educators who look like them and share their backgrounds. This bill will examine the barriers preventing us from achieving that reality and help us move towards that goal in the near future. A vibrant, diverse workforce is good for students, educators, and parents alike.
Rep. Naquetta Ricks represents House District 40 in Aurora.