After the Trump administration rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, we wrote that DACA’s rollback threatened an education and moral crisis, especially for students in higher education by worsening the college dropout rate. But DACA’s rollback also negatively impacts K-12 schools, and it hurts more than just undocumented K-12 students.
Among those who received expanded educational opportunities as a result of DACA are an estimated 9,000 “DACAmented” teachers. Removing protections from these teachers will worsen achievement gaps, exacerbate current human capital shortages, and negatively impact the diversity of a teaching workforce that already doesn’t reflect the demographics of K-12 schools.
DACA recipients come from around the world, but the vast majority are Latinx. It stands to reason that most DACAmented teachers therefore are Latinx. If they’re like other Latinx teachers, they’re disproportionately teaching disadvantaged students particularly Latinx students. Those teachers should be focused as much as possible on the urgent K-12 education task at hand.
Consider just the needs of Latinx students – a subset of disadvantaged students – who lag their White peers in reading and math achievement, college access, and college completion. When comparing proficiency in math, 26 percent of Latinx fourth graders earn proficient scores compared to 51 percent of White students. By 12th grade, the percentage of Latinx students scoring proficient drops to 12 percent. In reading, only a quarter of Latinx students are proficient compared to almost half of White students by the time they reach 12th grade.
Although the college enrollment gap is small—69 percent of Latinx high school graduates enroll in college compared to 72 percent of White students—Latinxs are more likely to enroll at two-year institutions, which have lower graduation rates. Latinxs are underrepresented at four-year institutions. They make up 21 percent of the college-aged population but only 16 percent students at four-year institutions. Finally, only 42 percent of Latinxs have bachelor’s degree compared to 61 percent of Whites.
Educators should be able to focus on education challenges and teach without continual fear of their or their students’ deportation. But instead teachers are losing precious time to the DACA rollback crisis as various organizations train educators around their rights and the rights of their students. Professional development time should be directed at improving teaching and learning, not spent in anxious anticipation of an immigration raid.
Without work permits, DACAmented teachers will be forced to leave the classroom. For those teachers, that’s horrible in and of itself. For students, regardless of status, losing a teacher takes an academic and emotional toll them. Teacher turnover costs schools billions annually and harms student achievement.
But also consider claims that the United States confronts a shortage of 327,000 teachers. Schools don’t have enough bilingual teachers. Three of the five states with the most DACA recipients—Texas, New York, and Illinois—all face bilingual teacher shortages. DACAmented teachers typically are bilingual and often fill important gaps for English as a Second Language students. Teach for America, for example, has about 200 DACAmented teachers serving 10,000 students in some of the country’s highest need schools.
Separate from their absolute numbers, consider the relative role that DACAmented teachers fill the diversity gap in the teaching workforce. About half of students in K-12 are students of color but over 80 percent of teachers are White. A not insignificant number of teachers of color are DACAmented.
We need more teachers of color, not fewer. Teachers of color tend to better understand the situations that students of color face. DACAmented teachers especially help some of the 3.9 million undocumented K-12 students by making their classrooms feel like a safe place. When teachers share their stories, students have someone they can talk to about their shared experiences.
Without new protections for DREAMers, 9,000 teachers and their students are at risk. DACAmented teachers are filling human capital needs, improving diversity in the teaching force, and inspiring students. Those students should not have to go through the trauma of losing their teachers. DACA recipients are #HereToLearn and here to teach. We should allow them to pursue those goals. It benefits us all.