SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) today announced a $2 million effort to support and retain teachers of color. ISBE will establish a statewide system of affinity groups in partnership with Sangamon-Menard Regional Office of Education 51 (ROE 51) and Teach Plus. The groups will bring teachers of color together to examine issues facing them, including the causes of attrition, and to develop policy recommendations. The recommendations will inform local district leaders on ways to improve working conditions and experiences for teachers of color.
“Establishing affinity groups will bolster ISBE's efforts to create an equitable education system for both students and staff," said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “All students benefit when they have teachers who are diverse, experienced, and supported while educators of color benefit by the additional supports of affinity groups. These factors are critical since Illinois' learning renewal and recovery strategies depend on an effective, sustained educator workforce."
ISBE began reporting the three-year teacher retention rate disaggregated by race/ethnicity for the first time in 2021. The data show that Illinois schools retain Black teachers at the lowest rate of all teacher groups – 80.6 percent. That compares to an 87.6 percent rate for White teachers.
Retaining a higher rate of current teachers of color will help Illinois meet its overall high demand for teachers. Research from the
Learning Policy Institute also shows that teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color, including better reading and math test scores, higher graduation rates, and increased aspirations to attend college. Studies show that students taught by teachers of the same race/ethnicity are less likely to be chronically absent and less likely to experience exclusionary discipline.
The program will run for two and half years and be funded with federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II funds. ROE 51 will administer the program in partnership with Teach Plus, a national nonprofit organization that develops and empowers teacher leaders. Teach Plus has facilitated projects focused on
retaining teachers of color in Illinois and has implemented an affinity group structure in other states.
“The Sangamon-Menard Regional Office of Education is proud to partner on this initiative that addresses the retention of teachers of color,"
said Regional Superintendent Shannon Fehrholz of ROE 51. “The program will bring together groups of teachers of color from districts across the state to identify and address local issues contributing to the lower retention rates of teachers of color by developing partnerships that will provide access to coaching, mentoring, and teacher leadership opportunities.";
“I'm thrilled to embark on this work in partnership with ISBE,"
said Teach Plus Illinois Executive Director Josh Kaufmann. “Teach Plus is focused on ways to retain talented teachers of color in the classroom. Affinity groups, where educators of color can gather safely to examine key issues, are a critical strategy in helping us create an equitable education system for teachers and students in our state. Teach Plus and Teach Plus teacher leaders look forward to helping build a system where educators of color will be able to work within the affinity groups to support each other and to identify barriers to retention and propose solutions to their school districts."
Justin Johnson, the 2021 Illinois Teacher of the Year, is a Teach Plus Policy Fellowship alumnus. He has focused his state-funded sabbatical this school year on speaking engagements, equity-focused professional development, and career guidance with a specific focus on increasing the recruitment and retention of diverse teachers.
“When we gather in places where there is a shared identity, it allows for authentic conversations about issues related to lived experiences," said Johnson, who is the band instructor in Niles Township High Schools District 219 in Skokie. “This creates space to discuss how improvement can be made to improve the climate and culture within the systems of education. If we want to truly improve the diversity within the teacher pipeline and the retention of those educators, it must begin with creating a safe space for those voices and valuing those voices when they speak."
The project will begin with a planning period in which ROE 51, in partnership with Teach Plus, will develop a comprehensive implementation plan and conduct outreach to educators of color in the state.
Educators interested in learning more about or participating in this initiative can contact Kaufmann at