Summit Kicks Off State-Level Focus on Recruiting and Retaining Educators of Color

A summit on building a pipeline of teachers of color in North Carolina launched a new initiative by the Governor’s office to diversify the K-12 teaching profession. Sonja Gantt of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Foundation, who emceed the summit, called out the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action Framework as one of a handful of initiatives calling for an increased focus on recruiting and retaining educators and school leaders of color.

The Developing a Representative and Inclusive Vision for Education (DRIVE) Summit was organized by The Hunt Institute, the Office of the Governor, and the NC Business Council of Education to explore how NC can build and support a pipeline of teachers of color in NC public schools. Check out the Twitter conversation about the summit at #DRIVESummit.

Research tells us young children of color have better educational outcomes when they are supported by a teacher of color in the early years. 68% of NC K-12 students are of color, while only 22% of K-12 educators are of color. Teachers and school leaders of color, researchers, nonprofit advocates and others shared their experiences and research about the barriers in place for young people of color to enter, stay, and grow into leadership positions in the education field.

Governor Cooper kicked off the Summit, sharing his thoughts on the importance of diversity and inclusion in education. He stressed that access to educators of color will improve educational experiences for all children. He also mentioned the importance of a strong education system from cradle to career. “We know the importance of those formative years during brain formation,” Cooper said. “And making sure we invest there.” Governor Cooper announced a task force to create a real plan for increasing teacher diversity, with the work kicking off at today’s summit. Click here to read the executive order.

A panel on the history of racial and ethnic diversity in North Carolina public education was moderated by James Ford, former NC Teacher of the Year, current member of the NC Board of Education, and founder of the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED). He has recently authored two reports about the historical legacy of black excellence in education in North Carolina despite discrimination and racism. Panelists Dr. Dudley Flood, the Honorable Howard Lee, and the Honorable Frances Cummings shared the importance their own experiences in segregated and recently desegregated schools in North Carolina and discussed the lessons we can learn from history about our present context in recruitment, preparing and retaining educators of color.

The research on the impact of teachers of color on students’ outcomes was shared by a panel moderated by Dr. Aaliyah Samuel. She shared her own experience growing up in Washington State as a first-generation, Black, Panamanian-American woman. Panelist Dr. Anna Egalite shared her research findings that when students of color have a teacher of color, there is a  positive effect on their personal effort in class, their reported happiness in class, and they are more likely to say that “because of my teacher, I think more about going to college.” She also found reduced turnover among teachers when they had a principal of their race. Dr. Constance Lindsay’s research found that Black students who are matched with a Black teacher are less likely to experience harsh and exclusionary discipline like suspension and expulsion. Black third graders matched with teachers of color are less likely to experience high school dropout and more likely to say they will attend college. Fifth-grade teacher Mireya Ruiz shared that she can tell her race influences outcomes for students of color in her class because it gives her a unique cultural awareness and allows her to bring cultural sensitivity and knowledge into her teaching. She said her students see themselves in her and appreciate her approach to learning and discipline, which matches what many of them experience at home. Their parents are comfortable building relationships with her.

Small group breakout sessions were held around recruiting, preparing and retaining a racially and ethnically diverse educator workforce.

At lunch attendees heard from former Governor Jim Hunt, former US Secretary of Education Dr. John B. King, who currently runs The Education Trust, and Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year.

Dr. King, also a former social studies teacher, gave attendees some homework, including:

  • Collect, analyze and use data around who is in the classroom and who is in teacher preparation programs in a transparent way.
  • Make the investments necessary to strengthen and improve the pipeline of teachers of color, including investing in HBCUs, community colleges and grow your own teacher programs.
  • Listen to teachers in order to retain them. He shared learnings from The Education Trust’s recent report If You Listen, We Will Stay, including about an invisible “tax” paid by educators of color when they are repeatedly asked to handle tasks like discipline and translation more than their white colleagues and then not valued for providing those services.
  • Build a positive school climate, such as eliminating exclusionary discipline policies like expulsion and suspension and ensuring that students of color can access honors classes.

Dr. King said plainly: If we fail to educate students of color in this country, we have no future.

Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year, teaches at a school inside a juvenile detention center in Richmond VA. He shared his own experience being mentored by his high school’s first Black assistant principal, who helped him apply for college. He said “As the National Teacher of the Year, I’m getting into a lot of [important] rooms. When I get in these rooms, there aren’t a lot of people who look like me, and no one is speaking for my promising students.” He encouraged the use of grow your own programs and reaching out to students of color in high school to recruit them into the field of education.

In the afternoon, attendees broke out into affinity groups to brainstorm solutions, including educators, school leaders, human resource professionals, superintendents, advocates/nonprofits/parents, and educator prep programs. The day finished with work to establish actionable goals to improve educator diversity in NC.