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Recruiting & Supporting Teachers of Color: An Assessment of Teach Toledo

By Lynne Hamer, Ph.D.
Guest Column

In the last several years, teacher education initiatives across the nation and locally have begun to get serious about addressing the critical shortage of teachers of color.  This shortage creates inequities and problems not only for students of color and white students, but for society as a whole.  The University of Toledo’s Teach Toledo initiative is one such effort.

Full disclosure of bias: this writer has been involved in the University of Toledo’s Teach Toledo initiative since 2015.  In that year, two things happened: (1) Participants in the forum Community Conversations for School Success identified the shortage of teachers of color as a key problem we needed to address as a community. (2) Eleven faculty members of the Judith Herb College of Education (JHCOE) began meeting to develop an initiative inspired by the “Grow Your Own Teachers” approach pioneered in Chicago (see www.growyourownteachers.org).

With Teach Toledo Cohort I students having completed their Associate of Arts degrees and headed for campus to continue for their Bachelor of Education degrees (see story in The Sojourner’s Truth, May 8, 2019), the JHCOE has been assessing what has been accomplished and what remains challenging. Here is what we have found, with an invitation for readers to share insights and suggestions for further development.


The purpose of the Teach Toledo initiative is to recruit and retain a diverse cohort of students who have lived experience in urban settings and who intend to earn the B.Ed. degree necessary for Ohio teaching licensure.  Because the job market locally and nationally is strongest for special education teachers, the initiative is built on special education licensure; however, participants can choose to pursue licensure in other areas.

The initiative thus has two goals: (1) recruiting diverse citizens of urban Toledo into the teacher education pipeline, and (2) preparing special education teachers with an interest in teaching in urban schools. 

In January, 2019 the JHCOE conducted a small study to assess the initiative’s success in achieving its goals.  The study compared the Teach Toledo Cohort I, matriculating in University College in fall 2017, with the cohort entering the Judith Herb College of Education, and within that group the smaller cohort of 12 students declaring their intention to pursue the intervention specialist major, also matriculating fall 2017. 

The goal of the study was to evaluate Teach Toledo’s level of success in recruiting and retaining a diverse cohort in comparison to the regular cohort of students who select to pursue education at the University of Toledo.  Although the sample is too small to generalize, it provides a useful point of comparison for consideration.



As displayed in Table 1, the Teach Toledo Cohort I was comparable in terms of gender diversity to the on-campus cohort, with approximately three-fourths of both groups identifying as female. However, in terms of ethnic identity, the Teach Toledo Cohort I was significantly more diverse than the on-campus cohort, with approximately three-fourths of the Teach Toledo Cohort I identifying as African American or Hispanic/Latino American compared to 11 percent of the JHCOE cohort and zero percent of the sub-cohort of those declaring intervention specialist as their intended major.

This difference shows that the initiative was successful in reaching its first goal.  It did this by purposefully recruiting for diversity, working primarily in central city Toledo and primarily via the Toledo Public Schools.  The emphasis on teacher diversity in print materials and oral presentation of the initiative, including framing it as an effort to address the local and national shortage of teachers of color, may also have been a factor.

Table 1: DEMOGRAPHICS of Initial Population (Fall 2017)




Teach Toledo cohort


74% Female

26% Male

58% African American

16% Hispanic/Latino American

26% Euro/Anglo American


Whole college of education – undergraduate

N= 677

77% Female

23% Male

5% African American

6% Hispanic/Latino American

82% Euro/Anglo American

7% Other/Unknown

Intervention Specialist Major (Freshman)


75% Female

25% Male

100% Euro / Anglo American




African American


Hispanic/Latino American


Euro/Anglo American




Academic Achievement

Several students entered the Teach Toledo Cohort I with strong high school GPAs and strong ACT scores.  However, taken as a group, students in the Teach Toledo Cohort I entered college with a significantly lower average high school GPA and significantly lower average ACT score than did their peers matriculating directly into the JHCOE.

But GPA and ACT did not predict their achievement in college.  By the end of their first semester of college, on average, the Teach Toledo Cohort I had approached closing the academic gap with their on-campus peers. The fall 2017 average term GPA for Teach Toledo students was 2.739, only 0.155 points lower than the intervention specialist cohort and only 0.345 points lower than the entire JHCOE cohort.

Why did lower grades in high school become higher grades in college? It was not because coursework was easier: the course requirements for Teach Toledo were the same as the requirements on campus.  Rather, the academic achievement of Teach Toledo students may have been supported by several factors.  First, Teach Toledo students tend to be non-traditional students, returning to school with a strong motivation to obtain the degree needed for their chosen profession.

Second, the cohort model facilitated students’ receiving information, clarification, encouragement, and occasionally extended deadlines necessary for first-semester students to succeed academically. In other words, the requirements were equal, but the paths to meeting them were adapted according to student needs.

Third, cohort members have reported the importance of working together “like a family,” at all times of day and night, often with children in tow. The importance of peer support cannot be overestimated: it was essential.



In higher education jargon, the term “persistence” refers to students continuing, semester after semester, toward graduation.  This is also referred to as “retention,” as in the university’s retaining or keeping students enrolled.

Between their first and second semesters, students in Teach Toledo persisted at a lower rate than did students in the JHCOE in general and specifically in the intervention specialist major. Only 74 percent of Teach Toledo students persisted to a second semester, while 96% of JHCOE freshmen persisted and 92 percent of intervention specialist majors.

There were two primary reasons for non-persistence beyond one semester: (1) For some students, life circumstances (including housing, job requirements, relationships, and in two cases tragedies) interfered with their ability to complete requirements, and (2) For others, past attempts at higher education had depleted their financial aid and they did not have funding to continue. 

However, beyond that first semester, Teach Toledo Cohort I students persisted at a higher rate than did on campus students to complete the Associate degree and transition into the professional education program.  Some scholars talk about this as having “grit.”

By the numbers, Teach Toledo students persisted at a higher rate than did the cohort of on-campus intervention specialist majors (see table 2). Specifically, 42 percent of Teach Toledo students persisted to register in spring semester of their second year, whereas only 33 percent of their on-campus intervention specialist peers did.  Of those Teach Toledo students who registered for spring semester, all have completed or are expected to complete the requirements for their Associate by August 2019.

It is important to note that the decline from 14 students registered in spring 2018 to 8 registered in spring 2019 was due in part to students being too advanced for the program: Three students were no longer eligible for cohort classes in spring 2019 because they had transferred credits into the program that put them beyond the Associate degree requirements at this point.

The other three who did not persist into spring 2019 can be categorized as “stopping out” rather than “dropping out”: They each had life or financial circumstances forcing them to take a break from school.  However, they are all in good academic standing and thus have the option to continue.


Table 2: RETENTION Fall 2017-Spring 2019


Fall 2017 to Spring 2019 Retention



SP 19

Not Registered

SP 19

Teach Toledo cohort






Intervention Specialist Major (Freshman)








Teach Toledo Cohort I shows the initiative to be successful in terms of recruiting and retaining a more diverse cohort of preservice teachers than the regular, on-campus program.  Success in terms of persistence to achieve the degree is due first and foremost to the outstanding dedication and resolve of the students, but a carefully designed initiative also helped: More data are needed to make conclusive claims about key features of the initiative leading to this success—and the JHCOE is working on that data.

However, the success of cohort I indicates that the design that prioritizes recruiting urban citizens and citizens of color into teaching, combined with the cohort model that provides social and academic support, is a promising approach for addressing the local and national need to educate a more diverse teaching force.

Is Teach Toledo a perfect program? Not at all.  It is an effort in progress—and as part 2 of this series indicated, teacher education has a long way to go to reverse past and present inequities.  One area of improvement that has become obvious is the need to provide more financial support: The federal Pell grant and Ohio access grant provide minimally sufficient funds for a fulltime student to complete a four-year degree if the student has no setbacks. 

However, most people have some missteps and need a financial safety net to fall into.  For students from wealthy families, the family provides that net.  For students whose families lack wealth—and especially for students of color whose ancestors contributed to the creation of others’ wealth in a system that denied them access to wealth themselves—schools and society need to provide that net.  As it goes forward, the Teach Toledo initiative must leverage financial support from institutions and the community to support students’ financial needs.

Is the program designed perfectly? Again, no: It is a work in progress.  Strengths of the program include its curriculum with African Civilization, African American Culture, and Spanish as required courses.  Weaknesses include the need for more tutoring opportunities at times and places accessible for working adults, especially for challenging subjects including writing, Spanish, and math.  As it goes forward, the Teach Toledo initiative is working with UT administration to provide this.

Does Teach Toledo have all the answers? Not at all.  Teach Toledo does have a large and diverse steering committee including many community members and cohort I students, and this is helping to make a good program.  However, the initiative welcomes input from all members of the community as we work together to raise up the teachers to teach the city’s children.

The author is coordinator of Teach Toledo, a collaboration between the University of Toledo and Toledo Public Schools designed to recruit and provide academic support for future teachers of color. Please send comments on Teach Toledo’s successes and challenges, and ideas for ongoing development of the initiative. UT’s Teach Toledo is recruiting for Cohort II, with May 31 being the deadline for application. Requirements are a GED or a high school diploma, and all ages are welcome.  Classes will begin in August.  Contact Hamer at 419-283-8288 or lynne.hamer@utoledo.edu, or go to the website at www.utoledo.edu/education/teachtoledo to apply for admission on line.  Dr. Hamer is happy to send readers PDFs of the research referenced in this article; contact her via email.


This article is part III of a three part series: Part I reported the graduation of eight Teach Toledo students, and part II reviewed research on the shortage of teachers of color as a civil rights crisis.




Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 05/23/19 23:49:08 -0400.

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