Misperceptions of the teaching profession, the financial burden of college and licensure, and a lack of specific mentoring and retention strategies have been identified as just three of multiple barriers for underserved populations to become teachers in Nashville.
These are the conclusions of a year of research and self-analysis by nine area educator preparation programs that came together to form the Trailblazer Coalition to collaborate around community solutions for teacher diversity. Shifting into a focus on advocacy in its second year of work, today the coalition shared a report of its findings and held a community discussion to brainstorm ways that public and private partners can help fix the broken teacher pipeline.
The disparity in teacher and student diversity is a nationwide issue reflected across Tennessee and in Metro Nashville Public Schools. A report last year by the Metro Human Relations Commission pointed out that over 68 percent of Nashville’s students identify as African American, Hispanic or Asian, while less than 26 percent of Nashville’s teachers do.
“We recognized as teacher educators that we can’t call upon Metro Schools to hire more teachers of color if there’s not a robust pipeline of qualified candidates,” said Laura Delgado, program director of the Pionero Scholars at Lipscomb University’s College of Education and a member of the Trailblazer Coalition steering committee. “The lack of teacher diversity is a complex problem that’s beyond any one entity’s ability to fix. We know from national research that the teacher pipeline is broken in multiple places: students of color are less likely to major in education, less likely to graduate college, less likely to pass the Praxis, less likely to be hired than their white counterparts, and more likely to leave the classroom. Solving these challenges will take involvement and support from across the community.”
Lipscomb University has received a two-year Diversity in Teaching grant from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to help increase diversity in Nashville's public schools. With funding provided by the grant, Lipscomb's College of Education will partner with MNPS to recruit eight educational assistants working in Nashville's public school system to enroll in Lipscomb, complete a teaching licensure program and transition to fully licensed teaching positions. In addition, the grant will allow Lipscomb to also train four in-service MNPS minority teachers in mentor coaching, who will in turn mentor the eight educational assistants who complete licensure through Lipscomb as well as to mentor future minority teacher candidates.
"By providing Tennessee with more high-quality teachers of underrepresented groups, this program encourages more students of those groups to aspire to academic success, as these new teachers will undoubtedly be role models with whom students can identify based on similar backgrounds," said Kristin Baese, assistant professor of education at Lipscomb and project director for the grant.
Baese said that a program to encourage more diversity in the education profession is a natural fit for Lipscomb's College of Education, which is consistently ranked as one of the top in Tennessee and in the nation.
"I believe one of the reasons our grant proposal has been funded is that Lipscomb has demonstrated its ability to train teachers well," she said. "So this is a natural extension if we are already proving to do a great job training teachers to be more responsive to the needs of the district in Nashville. This is an opportunity for us to reach out to groups that are often marginalized and to help create change in that community by equipping them to be teachers. It is exciting and receiving the grant is a big affirmation that this is work that matters."
Spurred by the founding of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition in the spring of 2016 and subsequent funding from Conexión Américas in the summer of 2016, the Trailblazer Coalition was formed and began an intense period of research to better understand the unique local issues impacting teacher diversity. The coalition conducted a survey of more than 400 local students of color in high school and college and held 19 focus groups with parents, educators, school administrators, community leaders and policy experts.
Based on its local research and reviewing national research on teacher diversity, the Trailblazer Coalition identified five main areas of need in its report:
- Promoting teaching as a transformative practice
- Promoting an anti-oppressive culture in teacher preparation programs
- Support for teacher retention and success
- Support for licensure and testing
- Financial support for underrepresented students Over the next year, the Coalition will work to partner with local and state government leaders and area nonprofits to implement systemic changes to impact these areas of need.
“It is inspiring to see the teacher prep community in Nashville come together to help our school system tackle this issue,” Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said. “Often in Nashville you see government leaders convening and calling on institutions and organizations to collaborate and help solve public sector problems. In this case, it’s the teacher prep programs stepping up to say ‘we all have to own this to make a difference.’ Their findings align with the work my office has been doing to make affordable housing more accessible to Nashville teachers. I look forward to expanding and accelerating this work with more partners at the table.”
Metro Schools is already heavily focused on the issue of teacher diversity. Director of Schools Shawn Joseph, who was hired by the Board of Education last summer, completed a strategic framework for the district earlier this year that features diversity as one of the district’s core values. Optimizing the district’s ability to recruit and retain high-quality diverse employees is a key strategy and one of the performance measures the district will be monitoring going forward.
“All students benefit from having diverse teachers in their schools,” Joseph said. “Research shows us that there are direct correlations between teacher diversity and student performance and student discipline. Our student population is wonderfully diverse. We’re a plurality district, meaning there’s no one majority race of students. In the spirit of giving every student the best education possible, we should aim to have that diversity reflected in our staff as well. I appreciate the Trailblazer Coalition supporting this effort and convening so many vital partners to help us move this work.” The Trailblazer Coalition’s full report, titled “Fixing the Broken Pipeline: Teacher Diversity and the Classroom,” is available online here.
The Trailblazer Coalition is a group of nine teacher preparation programs in Middle Tennessee working together to address teacher diversity in Metro Nashville Public Schools. The coalition work is supported through a grant project of Conexión Américas’ Education Policy Team.
The steering committee includes: Laura Delgado, program director, Pionero Scholars, Lipscomb University College of Education; Alan Coverstone, assistant professor and director of innovative projects in education, Belmont University, Metro Nashville Urban Teacher Residency; and Randall Lahann, director, Nashville Teacher Residency.
Lipscomb University College of Education: Junior High, director of undergraduate education; Julie Simone, lead faculty for Teacher for America; Ally Hauptman, assistant professor of education; Kristin Baese, assistant professor of education
Belmont University: Mark Hogan, professor and chair of the education department; Mona Ivey-Soto, assistant professor of education
Vanderbilt University: Elizabeth Self, lecturer, M.Ed. and Secondary Education Licensure Program; Teresa Dunleavy, assistant professor of the practice of mathematics education
Austin Peay State University: Anthony Sanders, assistant professor
Tennessee State University: Kisha Bryan, assistant professor; Jewell Winn, deputy chief diversity officer
Cumberland University: Kim Finch, program director for instructional leadership; Jennifer Novo, director, Office of Student Success
Teach for America of Greater Nashville: Kevin Haggard, director of school partnerships and recruitment
Relay Graduate School of Education: Arik Shur, director of operations
Want to read the full report? Click here.