NC State College of Education Faculty, Alumni Address Need for Teacher Diversity at DRIVE Summit

NELA alum Donnell Cannon spoke at the DRIVE Summit at NC State University

NC State College of Education faculty and alumni discussed the importance of diversity in the classroom and ways to bring more educators of color into the field during the DRIVE Summit, attended by about 300 people and held at Talley Student Union on Dec. 10, 2019.

DRIVE, which stands for Developing a Representative and Inclusive Vision for Education, was hosted by Gov. Roy Cooper’s office in partnership with North Carolina Business Committee for Education and The Hunt Institute in an effort to support the recruitment and retention of a sustainable pipeline of black and Latinx teachers and school leaders in North Carolina.

Data shows that 53 percent of students enrolled in North Carolina schools during the 2018-19 academic year identified as nonwhite while only 22 percent of teachers identified as nonwhite.

During his opening remarks, NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson highlighted the College of Education’s efforts to recruit more educators of color. These include the Brothers United in Leadership Development (BUILD) Summit that enhances leadership development for 100 black men every spring and the upcoming summer Leadership Institute for Future Teachers (LIFT), which will motivate and prepare bilingual students and students of color with an interest in teaching.

“Fostering diversity at all levels of education is critically important,” he said. “Studies indicate, and we know this to be true, that to be inspired, to be motivated and ultimately to be successful, students need to see themselves in the people before them in the classroom. When they do, they are predominantly and overwhelmingly more successful.”

During the Looking to the Evidence: The Impact of Educators of Color panel discussion, Anna Egalite, Ph.D., assistant professor in the college’s Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development Department, cited her own work that demonstrates students of color are more successful when matched with a same-race teacher.

One of her projects studied 92,000 students across 231 schools in North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Tennessee and New York, and it found that students’ classroom effort, happiness and reported desire to attend college increased when they had a teacher who were of both the same race and gender.

In addition to improving student outcomes, Egalite noted that having school leaders of color has also been shown to reduce teacher turnover. A study she conducted with fellow panelist and UNC-Chapel Hill Assistant Professor Constance Lindsay, Ph.D., found that schools saw a 3% to 7% reduction in the probability of teacher turnover when a teacher works under a principal of the same race.

“When we talk about diversifying the educator workforce, there are two strands to think about. There’s the recruitment side — doing a better job of getting more people into teacher preparation programs and into teaching — but then there’s the retention side,” Egalite said. “Once teachers are in the job, how are they supported to actually stay? The retention challenge is separate from the recruitment one and it’s one that we think is very important.”

The NC State College of Education’s principal preparation program, the Northeast Leadership Academy (NELA), has been successful in producing school leaders of color, according to program information shared by Bonnie Fusarelli, Ph.D., professor and director of the NC State College of Education’s leadership academies.

As a resource expert during a breakout session for superintendents, Fusarelli said she is proud that 58% of Master of Science of Administration graduates from the program are students of color, while 52% of doctoral graduates are students of color.

NELA participants are often recruited through a partnership with superintendents who help identify educators for the program. Fusarelli noted this is a crucial element to graduating school leaders of color, as many don’t consider themselves for the job.

“The recruiting is so important because oftentimes people don’t see themselves in that role because it hasn’t been modeled for them in their experiences. They haven’t seen a principal or superintendent who is a person of color,” she said. “We do a lot of things to make sure that we’re preparing students of color to become leaders in our schools and in our districts.”

Two NELA program graduates returned to NC State to serve as panelists and moderators at the all-day DRIVE Summit.

Donnell Cannon ‘16MSA, the principal of North Edgecombe High School, moderated a panel focused on Recruiting a Racially and Ethnically Diverse Educator Workforce. As the moderator, he cited work his district is doing to begin recruiting students who express interest in the teaching profession while they are still in high school in the hopes that they will return to teach in Edgecombe County following graduation.

“We recognize that there is a gap in the number of teachers of color that we’re putting in front of our kids,” he said.

LaAlice Hopkins ‘16MSA, a NELA graduate who now serves as an instructional advocacy and policy specialist with the North Carolina Association of Educators, said during a brainstorming session that in order to retain educators of color, work must be done to change the perspective so that they feel more supported in their schools.

“One of the main challenges is a lack of support and another is perspective,” she said. “People are putting educators in a box based on the color they’re seeing.”

The discussions and brainstorming sessions from the DRIVE Summit will be used to inform the DRIVE Task Force, which will develop a statewide plan of action with strategies to address challenges and opportunities related to increasing teacher diversity going forward.

“This is a marvelous program about one of the most important subjects we have in the country today,” said former Gov. Jim Hunt ‘59, ‘62, the NC State College of Education’s 2000 Distinguished Alumnus. “I want to make this not a done day conference, but an issue and a cause that we’re going to work our heads off to do something about in North Carolina and throughout America.”