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DRIVE Task Force hears about barriers teachers of color face entering and staying in the classroom

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Teachers of color appear to face greater barriers to entering and remaining in the profession, a task force charged with diversifying the teacher workforce heard last week. 

Tom Tomberlin, director of district human capital at the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), presented data at a meeting Friday of the Develop a Representative and Inclusive Vision for Education (DRIVE) Task Force. The data show that teacher candidates of color are less likely to complete educator preparation programs, and those who do are less likely to be teaching within two years after completion. 

However, that same data showed that of teachers who are teaching two years after program completion, a similar percentage of white teachers and teachers of color are designated as needing improvement — 11% and 10%, respectively. 

“We really start to get a clearer picture that this isn’t about their competency to be in a classroom — this is about an obstacle that is disproportionately affecting groups based on race,” Tomberlin said. “And that is a problem.”

DRIVE Chair Anthony Graham said the data underscores the need for North Carolina policymakers to enact laws and pass policies consistent with its 10 recommendations published in 2019. It also underscores the need, he said, for the task force to continue its work.

“I’m not concerned about a lot of work,” Graham said. “This group has proven it can write a report — through a pandemic — [and] an action plan in five or six months. There’s not much this group cannot achieve.”

Going forward, the task force will break into three subgroups: (1) engagement; (2) policy and standards; and (3) task force succession. The engagement subcommittee will focus on building relationships and awareness. The policy and standards subcommittee will focus on advocacy and strategy. The succession subcommittee will focus on what happens after the task force’s scheduled termination on Dec. 31, 2023.

On Friday, the task force also heard about the impact its work is having nationally. 

Representatives from The Hunt Institute presented their work on the 1 Million Teachers of Color project, a national initiative with similar goals as the DRIVE Task Force’s. The Hunt Institute initiative involves 10 states, with three — including North Carolina — identified as leaders.

* Texas and Colorado are also part of this 10-state cohort.

“Anytime we have a conversation at The Hunt Institute with folks in other states, there’s always questions about what the DRIVE Task Force is doing because you are leading some of this work in the country,” Sean Banks, educator diversity program manager at The Hunt Institute, said.

Banks said the goals of the project intentionally track with the task force’s recommendations. He said the effort and thought that have gone into the task force’s work reflect its leadership on the issue, and he echoed sentiments from several members of the task force.

“We do this work because we want to make sure that we’re not only putting teachers of color in a position where they can be in the classroom, but we want to make sure that they are quality workforce,” Banks said. “And we want to make sure that they have the supports necessary to not only enter the workforce, but stay there.”

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.