NC Watchdog Agency Critiques Teacher Diversity Efforts

Nov 9, 2020

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North Carolina lacks robust and specific statewide efforts to ensure greater racial and ethnic diversity among teachers in public schools, the legislature's government watchdog agency told lawmakers on Monday.

The Program Evaluation Division's review of activities by state officials, local school boards, charter schools and educator preparation programs describes initiatives to attract and retain Black and Hispanic candidates for K-12 classrooms. They include recruitment websites and monetary incentives, scholarships, mentoring programs and professional development.

But the report's authors conclude recent state initiatives — such as those originating from the Department of Public Instruction or Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — either don't explicitly target people of color or are too new or preliminary to be evaluated. Other initiatives lack financial resources, and many have a disparate array of goals and metrics from which to evaluate or compare.

Like the rest of the country, North Carolina data show the percentage of minority teachers in public schools lags well behind the percentage of minority students. While Black, Hispanic and other minority teachers rose from 17.1% of all teachers in 2015 to 20.5% in 2019, the percentage of minority students enrolled grew during the same period from 49.3% to 52.3%, according to the report.

Having a teacher of color in the classroom is linked to lower dropout rates among students of color and improved math and reading scores, the division report says, citing studies on North Carolina students and standardized test data from Florida.

Without endorsing any specific programs, the report's authors pointed to directed efforts in Tennessee, New Jersey and Virginia, which are among 13 states with government directive to increase teacher diversity.

“These efforts provide examples that North Carolina could follow in creating more comprehensive policies to increase teacher diversity," according to the report. The Program Evaluation Division presented it to a committee that makes recommendations on the division's work to the full legislature, which begins a two-year session in January.

The report says the Republican-controlled General Assembly could take a leading role in promoting diversity through ordering education officials to provide alternatives for teacher licensing exams and by expanding monetary incentives to students at historically Black universities.

The authors cited the Teaching Fellows Program, which gives forgivable loans to students attending five public or private colleges or universities, as well as training to become science and math teachers. Recipients are required to repay the loans or commit to teaching for four years in public schools.

None of the five schools are historically Black colleges and universities or institutions known to serve minorities. The legislature this year passed a law expanding the number of universities to as many as eight, but didn't specifically direct which should be added. The report recommends legislators pass another law requiring at least one historically Black or minority-focused college be included.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, who leaves office at year's end, took issue with several portions of the report and recommendations.

Expanding the Teaching Fellows Program to historically Black schools could increase the diversity of teaching candidates, Johnson said. But even if 100 loans were given to non-white candidates, it would take nine years to increase the percentage of minority teachers by 1 percentage point, he wrote. There were nearly 94,000 public school teachers in the state last year.

Other education leaders told committee members on Monday about what they call successful diversity efforts, such as the Teach North Carolina recruitment partnership.

“North Carolina has been proactive and innovative in our efforts to recruit and retain educators from all backgrounds over the past few years,” Johnson wrote.

A court order this year in a longstanding North Carolina public schools funding lawsuit says state government and the Department of Public Instruction will carry out a consultant's recommendations to set goals to expand and retain racial and ethnic diversity among teachers.