Commentary

Editorial: General Assembly must address teacher diversity, turnover problems ASAP

To their great credit, the folks at WRAL.com have been shining a light of late on the notable lack of racial diversity in North Carolina’s corps of public school teachers. This morning, in a follow-up Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial, they rightfully demand action from state lawmakers. This is from “Fix N.C. public schools’ lack of teacher diversity, turnover now”:

When most students in North Carolina traditional public schools look to the front of the classroom they rarely see teachers that look like them. Minority students make up 52 percent of the 1.4 million enrollment while 80 percent of the nearly 100,000 teachers are white. This gap, according to an extensive examination by WRAL-TV’s education team, showed for students of color, especially black and Hispanic boys, they may seldom – or never – have a teacher who looks like them during their kindergarten through 12th grade years.

Additionally, North Carolina public school teachers are leaving their jobs at a faster pace – 13.5 percent in the 2016-17 school year compared to 11.2 percent in 2010-11….

Since 2011, rather than looking for ways to close these troubling gaps, the General Assembly has taken a cleaver to the efforts to fix them and done little or nothing to replace those programs. Particularly troubling, is that much of this was done out of pure ideological spite.

The North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, a national model to get the best and brightest into teaching, was scrapped — not out of any objective analysis but because it had been an initiative of former Gov. Jim Hunt. Smart Start and More at Four have been cut. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, was so worked up he suggested we “scrap” colleges of education.

When the original North Carolina Teaching Fellows program was abolished, it had about 10,650 fellows – around 1,800 minorities and 2,500 males. It produced more than 8,500 graduates with 5,300 of them completing the four-year public school teaching obligation.

The fellowships were offered at 17 public and private North Carolina campuses – including three historically-minority universities in the UNC system.

The newly “revived” teaching fellows program had 74 students in it last year – 13 male and 13 minorities. No historically minority campuses, public or private, are a part of the program. That’s not revival. It’s a token, an insult.

It is reflective of a sorry record of mismanagement where the legislative leadership’s priority has been corporate tax cuts followed by taking a wrecking ball to public education.

Support for public schools, including teachers, must, again, be a priority. The teacher pipeline must be expanded. The legislature should revive the Teaching Fellows program with strong goals for male and minority participation and include incorporating historically minority campuses into the mix.

The neglect has gone on far too long. The time to act for North Carolina’s future is now.

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