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Perspective | The time is now: Acting to ensure equitable access to excellent teachers in North Carolina

Teachers are the most important school-based resource for student learning. Highly effective teachers are an investment in our future — a sure way to promote students’ academic and social-emotional development.

Unfortunately, North Carolina’s investments in teachers have not generated equitable returns for all students. Prior studies show that students from historically marginalized populations have less access to effective teachers. Through a funding partnership with the Belk Foundation, the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC) recently released a report confirming this troubling trend.

North Carolina’s students who are economically disadvantaged, low-performing, or of color are less likely to have well-credentialed, highly-effective, and same-race teachers. Relative to white non-economically disadvantaged students, Black economically disadvantaged students are two times as likely to have a first-year teacher and less than half as likely to have a Nationally Board Certified (NBC) teacher. Likewise, low-performing students have teachers with lower prior-year evaluation ratings (NCEES) and lower prior-year value-added estimates (EVAAS) than their high-performing peers.

Concerning teacher demographics, white students are 3.5 and 24.5 times more likely to have a same-race teacher than Black and Hispanic students, respectively. These demographic discrepancies matter because of the importance of same-race teachers to students of color. Overall, these differences in access are large in magnitude and add up over the course of a student’s K-12 education. Quite simply, the distribution of teachers in North Carolina compounds inequalities faced by those who are economically disadvantaged, of color, or low-performing.

This EPIC report should not sit well with state, district, and school-level officials. Equitable access to effective teachers is becoming a more pressing concern given the devastating impact of COVID-19 and the recommendations in the Leandro report.

North Carolina is now at a pivot point, with an opportunity to forge a new direction. We know the magnitude of the problem, and we know that gaps in access are mostly caused by certain schools and certain districts having more effective teachers. We are not lacking for promising solutions to this problem. The question is whether we have the political will to prioritize the problem and to make meaningful change.

If North Carolina is serious about addressing the inequitable distribution of teachers, then state, district, and school-level officials each have a role to play. Below, we highlight potential policies and practices to more equitably distribute and expand the reach of effective teachers.

All of these initiatives will require long-term vision and strategic implementation. Fortunately, prioritizing access to teachers aligns with the State Board of Education’s strategic plan and Superintendent Catherine Truitt’s focus on having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. And hundreds of educators and stakeholders have taken part in recent work like the Governor’s DRIVE Task Force and BEST NC’s NC STRIDE partnership to identify transformative solutions for improving the quality, quantity, and diversity of North Carolina’s educator workforce.

To chart a new and more equitable course for North Carolina students, state officials could:

  • Offer financial incentives to encourage teachers to work and stay in high-need schools
  • Invest in minority serving institutions so that North Carolina prepares more teachers of color
  • Ensure that high-need schools are led by highly effective administrators

To chart a new and more equitable course for North Carolina students, district officials could:

  • Establish/deepen partnerships with teacher preparation programs so that student teachers receive high-quality mentoring, districts hire promising teacher candidates, and preparation programs are responsive to district needs
  • Extend the reach of effective teachers through the creation of Advanced Teachers Roles (already being implemented in 15 districts across the state and supported by SB 681) and the leveraging of technology (e.g. blended learning)
  • Enact new student assignment policies that reduce the concentrations of students from historically marginalized populations in schools

Finally, to chart a new and more equitable course for North Carolina students, school officials could:

  • Assign their most effective teachers to students from historically marginalized populations
  • Create environments in which teachers regularly collaborate and new or struggling teachers receive frequent mentoring support

The evidence is clear. Solutions are available. It is time that North Carolina invests in all students having well-credentialed, effective, and diverse teachers.

Read EPIC’s full report below.

Editor’s note: The Belk Foundation supports the work of EducationNC.

Kevin Bastian

Kevin Bastian is a research associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and the director of the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina.

Johanna Anderson

Johanna Anderson was the executive director of the Belk Foundation from 2009-2022. She currently serves as director of philanthropy for Broward Grove.