One of Colorado Springs’ oldest educational nonprofits is joining forces with a national teacher training organization to try to combat the shortage of Black teachers, according to a recent news release.
The Sachs Foundation, which has helped send 3,000 Black Coloradans to college since its 1931 inception, and Teach For America Colorado, the state branch of a national group that “expands educational opportunity for children by recruiting and training educators,” are partnering to build a pipeline of Black educators in a state that sorely needs them, according to Sachs Foundation President Ben Ralston.
"Teach For America is a well-known and widely respected national organization, so we're thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the TFA Colorado team," Ralston said.
"We've been committed to building a pipeline of diverse teachers for Colorado from the beginning," said Prateek Dutta, executive director of TFA Colorado. "Black teachers have to overcome so many barriers, and this partnership is the perfect step in the right direction because now we have the resources to attract and retain Black educators by addressing the two major challenges they face: lack of funding and isolation.”
The partnership is seeking a local solution to what has been a national problem for decades, Ralston said. Educational data show that the number of Black teachers in the U.S. has steadily declined since Brown vs. Board of Education outlawed school segregation in 1954. Currently about 7% of U.S. teachers are Black, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
Colorado's numbers are even starker than the national average: About 1.6% of the state’s teachers are Black.
Colorado Springs' largest school district, Academy School District 20, had 16 Black teachers during the 2021-2022 school year — less than 1% of the district's 1,651 teachers, according to Colorado Department of Education data.
Of the area's districts, Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 had the highest percentage of Black teachers last year, at 3.6%. District 11, Widefield School District 3, and Harrison School District 2 were tied for second-highest at 3.4%.
“We found those numbers disturbing,” said Ralston. “And we think we can do something to help change that narrative.”
The teacher development program could have far-reaching implications for teachers and students, Ralston said. Studies have shown that the presence of just one Black teacher grades 3-5 increases lower-income Black boys’ interest in college and reduces their high school dropout rate by nearly 40%.
“Black students, and Black men in particular, have lower dropout rates, high college attendance, and less disciplinary issues if they have just one Black teacher at some point in their school career,” Ralston said.
The two organizations plan to help build a community of Black educators through salary supplements, training and support groups, Ralston said. Teach for America will recruit and train the teachers, and the Sachs foundation — which granted $2 million in scholarships to high-achieving Black Coloradans in the past year — will provide financial support for teaching candidates and for participating Black teachers.
The financial support is integral, Ralston said, because many Black college graduates — who typically have greater student loan debt than their white counterparts — often feel the need to pursue more lucrative careers like engineering or business, even if they would rather teach.
Ralston said cohort groups, which will provide networking opportunities and peer support, should help overcome a critical recruiting obstacle: Many Black prospects, cognizant of the fact that about 140 of Colorado’s 178 school districts have no Black educators at all, might balk at the idea of being the only Black teacher at their school.
Before its partnership with Teach for America, the Sachs Foundation had worked on a teacher development program with Colorado College and hopes to bring more local colleges and universities into the fold as the program grows, officials said.
Ralston does not expect to create a deluge of Black teachers, especially in a state where Black people only make up about 4% of the population. But he believes the partnership can make a significant impact in the coming years.
“It's a natural fit because we share the same values, and our capabilities are complementary,” Ralston said. “The Sachs Foundation has funds we can use to meet this challenge, and TFA has the critical teacher recruiting and training expertise to make it work. We're hoping to expand the program eventually."