Getty Image/Photo: Klaus Vedfelt

Lowering standards to attract people of color to the teaching profession is bad policy, a national education expert told state lawmakers Monday.

Heather Peske, chair of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), said the relaxation of pass standards for licensing exams “perpetuates the myth that racial diversity equates to fewer skills”.

“So when people say we’re getting rid of permit testing or lowering the bar because we want to diversify the workforce and that action is portrayed as a tool to increase racial diversity, the unspoken message is that somehow people of color are unable to live up to the norm,” Peske said. “This message is simply wrong and unacceptable.”

Peske made his remarks virtually during a meeting of the House Select Committee on an Education System for North Carolina’s Future in Cullowhee, western North Carolina. The Republican-led committee is reviewing the state’s public schools.

Tough schools require well-prepared teachers

Maintaining professional rigor and making sure new teachers are well-prepared is key, Peske said, because they are often assigned to economically disadvantaged schools where students have historically struggled academically.

“When we look at data on which students have access to which teachers, we repeatedly find that students who live in poverty, or so-called disadvantaged students, do not have the same access to teachers who are clearly the most strong.”

Peske shared findings from “How Did It Get Here: Unraveling the Sources of Teacher Quality Gaps in Two States” and “Has It Always Been This Way?” Tracing the Changing Differences in Teacher Quality in American Public Schools,” which included:

  • North Carolina exhibits inequities in student access to effective teachers, largely due to sorting within districts, rather than differences between districts.
  • Disadvantaged students – those from underrepresented minorities and those eligible for a free or reduced price lunch – were 2 to 4 percentage points more likely to have a novice teacher.
  • Disadvantaged students were 5 to 8 percentage points more likely to have a teacher with a lower licensing test score.
  • The main driver of these gaps is the hiring of teachers to new positions; it is extremely important to ensure that beginning teachers are effective.

See the PowerPoint Peske shared with the committee.

A recent study by nonpartisan researchers at the nonprofit RAND Corporation found that few administrators or teachers support removing or reducing certification requirements or eliminating preparatory admissions standards for recruiting. teachers of color, Peske noted. Policy Watch recently wrote about the study.

Heather Peske, Chair of the National Council on Teacher Quality

The survey results come from a section of the 2022 “State of the American Teacher” survey that focused on the racial and ethnic diversity of the nation’s teaching workforce.

The NCTQ has identified Meredith College in Raleigh and Queens University in Charlotte as “fair and excellent” institutions, Peske said. Schools receive the distinction when students of color pass licensing exams at rates above the state average with little or no disparity with white applicants, she said.

“So lowering standards in response to a real need to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the teaching workforce ignores the hard work we need to do,” Peske said. “We need to look at existing institutions and see where we fall short and where we need to better support candidates, all candidates, but especially those of color, to make sure they have access to the content knowledge they need. . be successful as students.

Racial prejudice should not be ignored

Still, Peske added, licensing exams should be scrutinized for evidence of bias.

“We also know that our country has systemic inequalities that may be the real culprit behind disproportionate pass rates for applicants of color,” Peske said. “So if we drop that safeguard for teachers before they enter classrooms, we’re just perpetuating the problem rather than actually solving the inequity.”

In 2021, black applicants passed 43% of the licensing exams they took, compared to 72% for those who were white. Meanwhile, Latino candidates passed 66% of exams. The pass rate for all test takers was 66%.

North Carolina has 56 approved educator preparation programs. They consist of public and private colleges and universities and alternative licensing programs.

Despite alarms about teacher shortages, first-grade enrollment in educator preparation programs grew from 4,386 to 6,210 between 2015 and 2021, a 41.5 percent increase, Peske said, citing the data from the NC Educator Readiness Program Dashboard. In 2015, there were 3,625 “completers”, compared to 3,748 in 2021. There was a slight drop in first-year enrollment between 2020 and 2021 at the height of the pandemic.

More of the program’s graduates come from alternative programs, Peske said. From 2015 to 2021, North Carolina saw a nearly 50% increase in the number of program graduates from alternative programs, Peske said. This is much higher than the national rate of 12%.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, there was a 10% decrease in prospective teachers from traditional educator preparation programs, close to the national average of a 9% decrease. Nevertheless, most students are enrolled in traditional preparation programs.

New teachers need help

Peske questioned North Carolina’s wisdom in allowing educators to teach for up to three years before passing licensing exams.

She explained that a typical kindergarten teacher, for example, might be asked to teach about 75 students to read for three years without demonstrating the skills necessary to do so.

“Would you want your child or grandchild to be taught by teachers who don’t demonstrate that they have the method of teaching reading under their belt? asked Peske. “That’s a concern.”

The state needs to focus on improving the educational experience for students, Peske said. This is the part of teacher preparation that future teachers find most beneficial, she said.

“A wealth of research demonstrates that student teachers who are paired with an effective and cooperative teacher or mentor teacher are more effective in their first year of teaching,” Peske said.

Given the importance of learning to read in the early grades, Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, asked if it would make sense to “drive” the state’s best teachers to grades 1- 4.

“If we’re putting teachers who don’t quite have that full complement yet on how best to teach, why not capture those who have it and…direct them into the early years of early childhood?” [a child’s education]?”

Peske said the state needs to take a strategic approach to determining how to assign teachers. She said the state needs to consider compensation to attract the best teachers to the districts, regions and grade levels that need them the most.

“Particularly in a place like North Carolina, you’re sitting in a more rural area than some urban areas, so could you use some strategic offsetting to … drive more teachers to places that need them,” Peske said. .

Peske’s remarks come as the state considers controversial revisions to the licensing and compensation of its teachers. Many educators say the recently proposed changes amount to an unwarranted shift to “merit pay” because they place too much emphasis on standardizing testing.

The proposal would create a system of entry-level qualifications to bring more people into the profession. Certification under the plan would essentially serve as a learner’s permit. This would allow aspiring educators with an associate degree to teach for two years while earning a bachelor’s degree. Teachers working under this license would receive a base salary of $30,000.

Veteran teachers in leadership positions could earn an advanced teacher license. A National Board-certified teacher working under this license with a master’s degree and more than 25 years of experience could earn more than $80,000 a year.