01/28/2015

AFT event highlights threats to teacher diversity

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In an effort to highlight the impact that the U.S. Department of Education's proposed teacher preparation regulations will have on teacher diversity, the AFT partnered with Howard University to hold a panel discussion Jan. 27 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Panelists at the AFT event"The Disappearing Act: The Impact of Federal Policy on Teacher Diversity and Teacher Preparation Programs," as the event was titled, gave panelists the opportunity to examine the myriad ways that the regulations could diminish teacher diversity and harm the colleges and universities that prepare teachers of color. Of particular concern is the threat to the historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and minority-serving institutions that prepare more than half of our nation's African-American teachers and nearly 90 percent of our Latino teachers.

Before a diverse audience that included educators, college students, civil rights activists and faith leaders, the speakers shared their concerns, ideas and suggestions. AFT Vice President Marietta English, who is also president-elect of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, set the tone in her opening remarks, stating that "it is important to match the diversity in our communities with highly qualified teachers who are committed every day to making students successful members of their communities, families and workplaces. Especially children with the greatest deficits whether due to poverty, lack of economic opportunity, poor resources for their public schools or undereducation of their parents."

Derryn MotenDerryn Moten (pictured at right), acting chair of the history and political science department at Alabama State University and a member of the AFT's teacher preparation task force, warned that "the regulations might result in training fewer teachers of color and threaten diversity in classrooms across the U.S." Referring to programs that train teachers, he said, "These schools cannot diminish and go away. Who stands in front of you in a classroom should reflect who you see in your home and in your neighborhood."

The proposed regulations are raising these concerns because they mandate that states receiving funding under the Higher Education Act must create new accountability systems for teacher preparation. In a major change from current practice, states will be required to implement ratings systems for teacher preparation programs that are based on four measurements: K-12 student performance, employment statistics, surveys of principals and graduates, and accreditation/state program approval.

The potential impact for programs that train teachers for high-needs schools is clear: They will likely receive lower ratings. And because many teachers of color choose to teach in these schools, the programs that prepare them will be disproportionately affected.

"Most of the teachers who graduate from historically black colleges and universities choose to teach in high-need school districts upon graduating," said Leslie Fenwick (pictured below left with Marietta English), dean of education at Howard University. "Under the proposed rule, Howard University and other HBCUs, HSIs and MSIs are putting their programs at risk of receiving lower ratings since they will be based on K-12 student growth and employment outcomes. That could deter colleges and universities from training teachers to work in high-need schools."

Further, the metrics mandated by the regulations will not provide useful and reliable information on program performance.

Leslie Fenwick and Marietta English"No one is saying accountability is not important, but measurement of accountability depends on equal resources, accurate research, properly designed indicators and consistent measures," said Arthur Hernandez, dean of education at Texas A&M University, which is a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. "What business would spend millions of dollars on a model that has not been proven to work and then turn around and put more money into perpetuating it?"

After the panelists' remarks and questions and answers, they concluded by agreeing that the proposed regulations should not be amended, but instead withdrawn completely.

"I'm glad I braved the weather to attend this event," said AFT Vice President David Gray, who is president of the Oklahoma City Federation of Classified Employees. "When I return home, I am going to make sure to get my members, community partners and the civil rights leaders to go online and provide comment."

The regulations are not yet final and are open for public comment until Feb. 2. Comments can be made online.

[Steven Wojcikiewicz, Delisa Saunders/AFT photos]