A new U.S. Department of Education (ED) regulation aimed at improving teacher quality at post-secondary institutions could have a long-term impact on minority serving institutions (MSIs). The regulation will compel states to develop a methodology to evaluate teacher education programs. Pre-service programs that do not meet the new criteria risk losing vital federal funding including the TEACH grant, which provides $4,000 per year for students who seek to become teachers. The TEACH grant requires that students commit to teach for four years at an underserved school in a high-need discipline. Students that attend MSIs educate a large number of students of color and are more likely to teach in underserved communities. Thus, the loss of federal funding could adversely impact efforts to diversify the workforce.
Over the last few years, school districts have taken steps to identify and aggressively recruit candidates from diverse backgrounds. The strong recruitment effort is important considering that more than half of public school students are majority-minority. Regrettably, high attrition rates hinder efforts to maintain a racially diverse teacher workforce. Developing a methodology to measure teacher effectiveness is not a panacea. School districts throughout the country have struggled to develop an effective evaluation tool that improves teacher performance and student learning. Schools located in underserved communities continue to struggle to increase standardized test scores and recruit and retain highly qualified teachers.
The new regulation will add another layer to a system in need of repair. Moreover, MSIs with teacher education programs could face stiff penalties because they educate students who are more likely to need remediation after high school. Students committed to turning around struggling schools may not meet minimum testing requirements and choose another major. For this reason, federal and state officials should consider the following questions: Will institutions be penalized because a student did not receive a quality PreK-12 education and failed the teacher certification test? Will the new system penalize teacher education programs if teachers leave schools that are not adequately funded? Could the costs from the regulation force schools to cut vital programs? Despite reassurances from ED none of the questions can be answered. Choosing to implement a plan while MSIs are struggling to compensate for historical inequities could be problematic.
In spite of the odds, MSIs do more with less. According to The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, 20% of all undergraduates attend MSIs yet they represent slightly more than 10% of post-secondary institutions nationwide. The figure highlights their important role in higher education. In addition, they produce teacher education candidates that seek to close disparities in urban, rural and suburban communities. Protecting their history of educating and graduating practitioners is essential. The proposed federal regulation could be finalized this year. Over the next few months states will have to carefully consider the historic mission of MSIs before implementing new standards.
MSIs are a vital cog in the education system. According to Leslie Fenwick, Dean of the School of Education at Howard University, HBCUs produce more than 50% of the nation’s African-American teachers while HSIs produce 90% of Hispanic/Latino teachers. HBCUs including Tennessee State University are among the top producers of African-American teachers. Policymakers have to consider how to develop a fair system that does not prevent MSIs from producing new teachers. Seeking feedback from MSIs and other stakeholders is important. Ignoring their concerns could create a domino effect that undermines efforts to diversify school districts.
While it is important to hold universities accountable for preparing teachers to enter the workforce, policymakers must consider the important role of MSIs in educating students of color. We hope that MSIs work collaboratively with legislators to ensure the proposed regulation does not hamper efforts to recruit talented teachers. MSIs could be negatively impacted by changes that lead to funding cuts and unintentionally damage the minority teacher pipeline. Without teacher education programs at MSIs, students of color throughout the United States will face a daunting future.
Dr. Larry J. Walker is an educational consultant focused on supporting HBCUs. Follow him on Twitter @LarryJWalker2
Ramon Goings is the program coordinator of the Sherman STEM Teacher Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and doctoral candidate in Urban Educational Leadership at Morgan State University. Follow him on Twitter @ramongoings