National Education Association veep addresses diversity

Becky Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association, is a Philadelphia native and graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls.

— Photo courtesy of National Education Association

Public schools in Philadelphia and across the country are also working to increase diversity of the teaching workforce. National Education Association Vice President Becky Pringle, a Philadelphia native, said there’s a pay-off for students and employers.

“I can’t understate the need to develop and nurture a more diverse teaching workforce,” said Pringle, who graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls and taught in the city’s West Oak Lane section before moving to Harrisburg with her husband.

Pringle cited statistics that show slightly more than 40 percent of teachers leave the profession within five years, and that includes minority teachers.

“Ethnic minority teachers are leaving the profession at disproportionately high rate,” she said.

Pringle is part of the union leadership team taking a look at ways to elevate the teaching profession. And she suggests working with historically Black universities in identifying reasons more students of color are exiting the profession. Besides working conditions, salary and compensation and benefits as a starting point.

Another avenue worth exploring is addressing opportunity for advancement, “the ability to have some control of their profession, a voice and path for them to have some leadership without leaving the classroom.”

Acting U.S. Education Secretary John King, Jr., also commented on the importance of diversity in education during last month’s visit to the School of the Future in West Philadelphia.

He acknowledged students of color as the new majority of students attending public schools and an increase in the numbers of students who speak languages other than English.

“These facts create new urgency in recruiting a generation of educators that more closely resemble the students they serve,” said King, a former teacher. “Together, African-American and Latino teachers make up less than 15 percent of the teaching workforce, and less than two percent of our teachers are African-American males. Similarly, many districts are struggling to find the bilingual teachers they need. We need a more racially and linguistically diverse next generation of educators.”

Local universities are also working to improve diversity of university faculty.

Pennsylvania’s 14 state-run universities, which rely heavily on tuition from in-state students, are sharing best practices and resources in building on earlier efforts to promote “diversity, inclusiveness, and multi-culturalism,” officials said.

PASSHE, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, is participating in the Southern Regional Education Board’s doctoral scholars program, which works to develop doctoral candidates seeking careers as college faculty member.

“The program provides multiple layers of support, including financial assistance, academic/research funding, career counseling, a scholar directory for networking and recruiting and continued early career support,” according to the leadership at PASSHE. “A number of current state system faculty were recruited through this program.”

PASSHE is seeing encouraging results since launching its Student Success Network, which enhances programs with a cache of academic support services. The network formalizes collaboration between officials overseeing student retention initiatives, with the aim of replicating best practices that have “delivered results in first-year retention, four-year progress/persistence and graduation rates, especially for under-represented minorities and students with low socio-economic status,” according to PASSHE officials.

Adopted as part of a strategic plan in 2014, funding was tied to achieving objectives for faculty and staff diversity. PASSHE officials saw the student success network as a “natural outgrowth and expansion of earlier efforts to promote “diversity, inclusiveness and multiculturalism” across the system.

“We found out that about 55 percent of our African-American students participated in the program,” said Daniel Engstrom, co-chair of the PASSHE Student Success Network. “Those students had an 85 percent retention rate; for those who didn’t participate in the program, the retention rate was 65 percent. That’s huge.”

“We know now that we need to do a better job of recruiting African-American students into the program,” Engstrom stated. “We would have never known that without the scorecard.”

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