Diversifying the teacher workforce

Diversifying the teacher workforce

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Scholars convene to address national issue
Freshman Lawrance Stephenson, an aspiring math teacher and member of Project IMPACT, is joined by (standing from left) Men of Color Network mentors George Guy, James McBee and Nedd Johnson.

It was more than talk.

“This Convening was not about discussing the problem. We all know about the problem. This Convening was about finding the solutions,” Rowan University College of Education Dean Monika Shealey said at the conclusion of the Inaugural New Jersey Convening on Diversifying the Teacher Workforce.

Hosted earlier this month by Rowan’s College of Education and co-sponsored by the College and the New Jersey Department of Education, the Convening brought together 150 educators in the nation—many of them giants in the field—to address the lack of diversity in teaching ranks in U.S. schools.

According to a 2016 U.S. Department of Education report, 82 percent of public school teachers are white, a figure that has hardly changed in more than 15 years. Yet, by 2024, students of color are expected to make up 56 percent of the nation’s student population. In fact, the report notes, every state has a higher percentage of students of color than teachers of color.

Increasing the number of teachers of color is critical to student success and cultural literacy, according to the report.

“Improving teacher diversity can help all students,” the report notes. “Teachers of color are positive role models for all students in breaking down negative stereotypes and preparing students to live and work in a multiracial society.

“Both quantitative and qualitative studies find that teachers of color can improve the school experiences of all students. Further, teachers of color contribute to improved academic outcomes while serving as strong role models for students.”

'We are here to start a movement'

During the convening, experts in the field of racial inequity in the teacher workforce presented research and statistics on the issue throughout the morning. Montclair State Emeritus Education Professor Ana Maria Villegas, whose keynote outlined her 30 years of research on the topic, and Diana Pasculli, deputy assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, gave presentations, among many others.

“We are here to start a movement,” Pasculli said. “In New Jersey, we really want to put a stake in the ground. The percentage of students of color is growing exponentially faster than the number of teachers of color. We want to redefine the definition of what a high quality workforce is.”

Afternoon sessions, among others, included presentations on Rowan’s Project IMPACT (Increasing Male Practitioners and Classroom Teachers) program, which works to increase the representation of males from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds in the field of teaching; the Holmes Network, which supports students from underrepresented groups in teaching and educational leadership and scholarship; and the Center of Pedagogy at Montclair State, which uses a multifaceted approach to recruit and support students of color.

In a lively panel discussion, teachers of color from school districts throughout the nation offered their own perspectives on the challenges of recruiting and retaining a diverse corps of classroom teachers.

Action groups

Convening participants also joined together to form action groups to discuss recruitment and retention in educator preparation and recruitment and retention in P-12 education. Each group reported to all conference attendees as they planned next steps.

Members of the Convening Committee will collaborate to draft a report for New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet that outlines their recommendations for moving forward to address the teacher workforce diversity issue.

Shealey noted that Rowan’s College of Education has intentionally focused on issues of social justice and equity.

To that end: the Center for Access, Success & Equity (CASE) was created and currently includes 13 students of color pursuing Ph.Ds.; Project IMPACT, which enrolls 27 Rowan students, was founded; and, in an emphasis on “diversifying the professorate, the College boasts 13 Holmes Scholars, making it one of the largest programs in the country.

Yet, Shealey said, bringing together a group of scholars working on the topic will yield bigger results for the state…and the nation.

“New Jersey is ready to take this work on. We have a report to write,” Shealey said, noting that the Convening Committee includes education scholars from Rutgers, William Paterson, and Montclair State universities.

Added Linda Eno, assistant commissioner of the Division of Academics and Performance for the New Jersey Department of Education, which serves 1.4 million students in the state: “This is not going to happen in a vacuum. It needs collaboration.”

Attendees at the Convening included classroom teachers, principals, superintendents, education professors and deans, other education agencies and parents from Connecticut to Florida to California.

Among other institutions, attendees hailed from the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Education Association, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, New York State Education Department, Rhode Island Department of Education, University of Florida, and school districts from New Jersey, including Camden City, Moorestown, Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Haddon Heights, Paulsboro, Collingswood, South Brunswick, Freehold, Robbinsville, among scores of others.

The Convening ended with remarks from Repollet, who noted that his own daughters have yet to have a classroom teacher of color.

“How are we to explain to that young child of color sitting in a classroom that they’re relevant…that they’re important?” Repollet asked. “(Today), you have a better chance of finding diversity in the cafeteria of our schools than in our classrooms. We are committed to building a strong, diverse workforce.”