RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division recently released a report on state efforts to increase diversity in the state’s teacher workforce.
The Program Evaluation Division (PED) report says that North Carolina lacks “dedicated statewide” initiatives to attract, retain and increase racial and ethnic diversity among its public school teachers.
In 2019, the state employed 93,923 public school teachers, with a racial breakdown of 78% white, just over 16% black and 6% listed as “other.”
The PED study mentioned a few theories researchers have used to explain how teachers of color improve the academic performance of students of color. The report refers to a 2017 study using data on North Carolina public school students which showed that a black student having a black teacher in elementary school decreased high school dropout rates for those students by 31%.
Theories that having a teacher the same race as a student creates a role model situation and some have suggested that a teacher who is the same race as the student has higher expectations for them. The PED report also makes the claim that white teachers misinterpret black student behavior as a reason why those students are disciplined more often, and that “research has also shown that black students taught by black teachers are less likely to be disciplined for incidents that require subjective judgment.”
The report by PED also calls attention to issues with the teacher pipeline as black potential teachers drop out of college and high school at a higher rate. Additionally, the report notes that “teachers of color have lower passing rates on standardized teacher licensure exams,” and that once in the classroom, the turnover rate for those teachers is higher than that of white teachers.
The state of North Carolina currently requires K-12 teachers to pass a pedagogy assessment test and a content exam. Teachers for kindergarten through sixth grade are also required to pass a reading foundations test and can choose one of two different math tests — one by Praxis and one by Pearson.
The option to choose between the Praxis and Pearson test likely stems from results in 2018, where over 2,000 teachers failed a portion of the Pearson Math exam. Passing rates on the Praxis exam were around 85% but dropped steeply to 65% with the Pearson exam. The same drops were found in other states using the Pearson product. After outcry about the Pearson test including subject matter beyond what was needed for elementary math, the N.C. State Board of Education allowed for retests.
“Surprisingly, the author of the report did not differentiate between charter and district schools,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, vice president for research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation.
“Research published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that North Carolina charter schools employ 35% more black teachers than the state’s district schools,” said Stoops. “And compared to district schools, black students in North Carolina charter schools are around 50% more likely to have at least one black teacher. The reasons why may offer critical guidance for districts and policymakers who seek to make the teaching profession more diverse.”
Recommendations by PED to increase teacher diversity include the General Assembly mandating inclusion of “at least one Historically Black College or University or minority-serving institution in the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program.”
PED also recommends potentially lowing the bar for teacher licensing and competency requirements by having the legislature require the State Board of Education to develop a plan for an “alternative to licensure exams” for teacher candidates.
While PED recommended alternate exams, Stoops targeted candidate eligibility.
“One way to make the educator workforce more diverse is to loosen regulations that restrict the pool of teacher candidates to those who possess state licensure,” Stoops said.
A report on the teaching profession produced earlier this year in January by Stoops notes that “Although the state puts a premium on licensure, advanced degrees, and other credentials, there is little evidence that these factors improve teacher quality or raise student achievement.”
Currently, those who wish to teach in North Carolina K-12 public schools are required to have completed a state-approved educator preparation program (EPP) or a state-approved alternative route to professional educator’s licensure.
One new alternate route is a provisional “residency license” that allows a qualified individual to obtain a teaching position and begin teaching right away as a “resident” while obtaining a professional educator’s license.
In 2019, the State Board of Education loosened some license restrictions on out-of-state teachers applying to work in North Carolina. A teacher from another state with three or more years’ teaching experience would qualify for a North Carolina license if they receive a passing score on a licensing exam from their state as set by the developer of the exam.