A disproportionate percentage of nonwhite teachers are prepared at schools that make up just 13 percent of all the teacher-preparation programs in the United States: minority-serving institutions.
That statistic should make the schools of education at minority-serving institutions, or MSIs—a term that encompasses historically black colleges and universities and other schools that serve predominately nonwhite populations—a major player in efforts to increase teacher diversity, educators say.
Only 20 percent of public school teachers are nonwhite, compared with over 50 percent of public school students. Thus, improving teacher diversity has been a growing area of national concern, with some states and districts also pledging to tackle the issue head on.
Yet the role of MSIs in contributing to a more-diverse teaching corps has largely been absent from the conversation, some educators and advocates say.
“The interesting thing is that 40 percent of students of color are educated at MSIs,” said Marybeth Gasman, a professor of education at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. “They are educating an enormous amount of people who could potentially be teachers. ... If we’re not looking at them [as a solution], we really don’t want to solve this problem.”
To strengthen and grow these programs, the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity has emerged as a hub for MSIs to connect, share resources, and receive support.
The initiative, called BranchED, officially began late last month, but it had been working with schools for about a year now. Over the past 14 months, the group has worked with 36 institutions, said Cassandra Herring, the founder, president, and CEO.
There are 253 MSIs with schools of education. While Herring doesn’t expect every school to be interested in joining the network, she said early demand has far exceeded projections.
BranchED has three goals: empower MSIs through coaching, break down silos by connecting schools to each other and to other resources, and elevate the voices of the programs.
‘High Intensity’ Coaching
“This is not a status-quo initiative,” said Herring, who was formerly the dean of the education school at Hampton University, a historically black school in Virginia.
BranchED plans to launch an intensive coaching model, which Herring hopes to implement within the next year (although two colleges already received prototype coaching).
Coaches, who are familiar with MSIs and have expertise working with data, will assist a participating college conduct a self-assessment to develop and help execute an improvement plan. It will be a three-year “high intensity, high resource” commitment, and it will not be the model for every MSI in the alliance, Herring said.
Many MSIs, which prioritize serving low-income students, have historically been underfunded, Gasman said, creating challenges.
Enrollment in many teacher-preparation programs has declined in recent years, and Herring said MSIs are not immune. Some MSIs also have a real need for faculty development to enhance their practice, she said, and many struggle with making sure enough of their students pass a teacher-licensure exam upon graduation.
Reasons for those challenges differ for every institution, she added, making it critical for coaches to do a diagnostic assessment for participating programs.
At Huston-Tillotson University, the small private HBCU in Austin, Texas, that houses BranchED, officials are most excited for coaches to help evaluate their programs through long-term data analysis.
“Are we doing the best that we can for our teachers, our preservice teachers, so that we aren’t spending time doing things that don’t really make a difference in the classroom?” said Ruth Kane, the chairwoman of the department of educator preparation.
Eric Budd, HTU’s associate provost, said BranchED has already helped the department go deeper in examining its student data, including intern and student-teacher ratings, and assessments that students take, to make sure everyone is on track to become a qualified, certified teacher.
“The organization has given us some knowledge that empowers us,” he said.
Boosting Students’ Confidence
BranchED is also building partnerships with nonprofits, K-12 districts, and other universities.
“BranchED isn’t just about MSIs, it’s about creating highly effective, diverse educators through partnerships that really move that goal further,” Herring said.
Nationwide, 9 percent of teachers are Hispanic, 7 percent are black, and 2 percent are Asian.
MSIs are a valuable pipeline for those teachers, said Larry Walker, an education consultant and a former teacher. He studied elementary education at Cheyney University, a Pennsylvania HBCU.
He said of his experience at an HBCU: “I felt valued and I think that’s really important, particularly in education, where there are not a lot of [black] males.” Walker went on to teach in a school where he was the only black man.
“I think attending an HBCU prepared me for an environment like that,” he said. “When you leave, you not only [understand] content, but you also have self-confidence.”
A 2015 Gallup poll found that black U.S. college graduates who attended an HBCU are more likely than black graduates of other institutions to be thriving in several areas of their life, including liking what they do each day and being motivated to achieve their goals. That foundation may be especially important for aspiring black teachers since studies suggest that nonwhite teachers generally have higher attrition rates than white teachers, MSI officials said.
“We really are important factors in the diversity of the education system,” Budd said.
Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/Programs/Education. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2017 edition of Education Week as Can Minority-Serving Colleges Diversify K-12 Teaching?