National education symposium at NKU seeks to address gap in teacher diversity, find solutions

Posted at 12:00 PM, May 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-11 12:00:34-04

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. -- David Childs grew up in Cincinnati's inner-city public schools. The students in his classes every year were racially and ethnically diverse, but his teachers were not.

"My teachers didn't look like me," said Childs, a history professor in Northern Kentucky University's College of Education and Human Services. "During my K-12 education, I had very, very few African-American teachers."

There's a lot of talk these days about the achievement gap in education, which refers to the disparity in academic performance between groups of students.

But what about the teacher-student diversity gap?

Nearly half of the nation's K-12 students are from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, yet more than 80 percent of the teaching workforce is white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The disparity is longstanding and widespread throughout the nation, and students of every race and ethnicity are missing out on the myriad benefits that a more diverse teaching workforce would provide, according to Childs.

That's why he and a group of colleagues at NKU are organizing a national symposium on teacher diversity that will focus on preparing, recruiting and retaining teachers of color.

The symposium will be held at the university Sept. 15. The recent announcement has already created a bit of a buzz among the education community, and organizers' call for papers is yielding proposals from educators, scholars, researchers and others from across the country, said Roland Sintos Coloma, a professor in NKU's College of Education and Human Services and chair of its department of teacher education.

The group is seeking proposals that focus on school and university policies, programs and practices that increase the numbers and enhance the experiences of aspiring and practicing teachers of color, he said.

The symposium is part of a larger effort at NKU that aligns with a national push to increase the diversity of the teaching workforce.

The U.S. Department of Education released a report last May that highlighted a lack of racial diversity among teachers at public elementary and secondary schools across the nation. It was a call to action for stakeholders, including K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions, to do more to support teachers of color at all points across the teacher pipeline.

The reason?

It's important for students of color to have role models who look like them and share common experiences, former Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a statement upon the report's release, and it's equally important for all students to see teachers of color in leadership roles in their classrooms and communities.

Additionally, teachers of color can be positive role models for all students in breaking down negative stereotypes and in preparing students to live and work in a multiracial society.

A variety of studies, including an analysis of teacher diversity prepared by the National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force, have also found that increasing the percentage of teachers of color in classrooms is also directly connected to closing the aforementioned achievement gap among students.

"Teachers of color expect more and demand more of students of color," Coloma explained. "They know students of color sometimes have to work twice or three times harder to be successful."

After struggling during his youth, and even being "semi-homeless" at one point as a young adult, Childs admits it was finding that special connection with teachers of color when he started college that helped him succeed.

"Through education, and going to college and meeting teachers of color who I connected with, it really helped me find myself," he explained. "For me, this is a calling. I know how much it impacted my life."

Childs is a founding faculty member and adviser for NKU's Black and Brown Educators of Excellence organization. It provides a "wrap-around" service to minority students, he said, and it also helps in the recruitment and retention of students of color in the university's College of Education and Human Services.

The organization has grown since its inception and is just one of the college's ongoing initiatives to help increase teacher diversity.

Others include partnerships with select local schools that have diverse student populations and initiatives through NKU's Master of Arts in Teaching program, which was created to develop bachelor's degree holders who are already knowledgeable in their content areas into middle school and high school teachers.

Coloma said the symposium will provide the opportunity to share the progress NKU has made.

"For us at NKU, it's exciting to take a national leadership role on this topic," he noted. "We're pushing the envelope on what can be done to move the dial forward."

The symposium will spark a national conversation about an urgent need in education, he said. But it is intended to go a step further and also provide practical tips for schools, universities and other organizations that are committed to increasing teacher diversity.

"We're gathering a community of people who are addressing this issue head-on," Coloma explained. "We can get a gauge of what else is out there, hear about practices and policies ... and learn from others' successes and even some missed opportunities."

NKU is accepting proposals until May 15. The input will influence discussion topics at the symposium. A select number of the papers will also be published in a special issue of the EducationalStudies journal.

Organizers have opened up the symposium to a variety of stakeholders.

"Our department here at NKU isn't the only one having a conversation about this," said Brandelyn Tosolt, a professor in the university's department of teacher education. "We need to stop having them in isolation and instead come together to build some change."