Teacher Education at Minority Serving Institutions: Some Perspectives from AERA 2016

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Alice E. Ginsberg

Only 17% of the nation’s teaching force is comprised of teachers of color while over 49% of students are from minority groups. In some cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, over 80% of students are minorities. And although we continue to prepare and recruit more teachers of color into the profession every year, the gap continues to grow. Minority teachers are leaving the profession at higher rates than other teachers due to the stress of working in high-need, under-resourced schools, as well as feelings of isolation, low pay, and lack of leadership opportunities. These problems and more were on full display at this year’s AERA Annual Meeting, whose theme was “Public Scholarship to Promote Diverse Democracies.”

While at AERA, I attended multiple paper sessions and roundtable discussions on preparing teachers of color to teach in minority and high-needs public schools. The themes ranged from preparing teachers to use culturally relevant pedagogy and advocate for students of color to issues surrounding the recruitment and retention of teachers of color. Many of the speakers and moderators hailed from Minority Serving Institutions such as Rita Kohli at the University of California, Riverside and Danielle Lansing at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute. Others, such as Tyrone Howard at the University of California, Los Angeles and Richard Milner, at the University of Pittsburgh, are leaders in the field of minority teacher education and culturally relevant pedagogy.

In a roundtable discussion titled “Racialized Lives and Bodies of Teachers,” for example, Rita Kohli discussed her current research with 344 teachers in an urban school district in the California Bay Area. Through surveys and qualitative interviews, Kohli found vast differences in how white teachers and teachers of color experienced their teaching placements. When asked about the extent to which they felt supported by administrators in their school, 33% of teachers of color responded “not at all” in contrast to only 9% of white teachers. Similarly, when asked to what extent they felt valued by other teachers on the staff, 27% of teachers of color said “not at all” in contrast to only 3% of white teachers. When asked if they felt connected to their peers, 27% of teachers of color responded “not at all” in contrast to 2% of white teachers.

These differences were common across questions about school leadership and job promotion, leading many new teachers of color to question whether they will stay in the profession at all. As one teacher noted: “Sometimes, I consider not teaching anymore. Not having any mentorship or support has made me question myself and why I became a teacher . . . I feel I am operating in complete isolation and I’m exhausted.” As Rita Kohli suggests, “As we diversify the teaching force, we do very little to shift the culture of schools. We need to better understand the racial climate we are recruiting teachers of color into.”

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From the AERA 2016 panel: “Knowledge as Public Intellects: Indigenous Perspectives Towards Nation Building and Democracy”

In a panel titled “Knowledge Keepers as Public Intellectuals: Indigenous Perspectives Towards Nation Building and Democracy,” scholars discussed the importance of preparing teachers to work in indigenous schools, where issues of family, community, and tribal culture are an essential part of the curriculum and ethos of teaching. Indeed, the issue of building stronger and more aligned relationships between universities, schools, and minority communities was raised in many presentations across AERA. Teacher educators at a variety of panels described pre-service teaching immersion programs, such as the STEP-UP program at the University of Illinois, Chicago where teacher candidates spend four weeks over the summer teaching in urban schools and doing community internships while living with families in the community.

Despite the importance of educational diversity, I left AERA with the impression that our current model of education does not adequately value or support minority teachers. For example, Lisa Bennett, Cathy Yun, and Laura Alamillo from California State University, Fresno discussed standardized tests as a barrier for high quality teacher candidates from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds. According to Bennett, Yun, and Alamillo, these tests can be so expensive that it is not unusual for minority teacher candidates to have to choose between taking the test and paying their rent. Cultural bias on the testing questions also often mean that minority candidates do not do well on these tests, despite strong evidence that they go on to become effective and caring teachers for minority students.

More needs to be done to cultivate, support, and retain these teachers. Researchers stress that teachers of color are instrumental for the success of students of color, many of which attend underserved schools in low-income, immigrant, and ESL communities. It has been found that minority teachers not only serve as role models for students who have been marginalized by the educational system, but they also tend to create classrooms where students’ own cultural histories are acknowledged and appreciated. These teachers have high expectations for all students, reject deficit models of teaching and learning, and welcome families into school’s community and classroom.

As the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI) enters the third year of its initiative to support and expand teacher education programs at MSIs, we are looking forward to October 2016 when we’ll have our National Convening on Success in Teacher Education at Minority Serving Institutions, where teacher educators and prospective teachers from MSIs around the country will share their models of success. With generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Educational Testing Service, CMSI has been doing collaborative research with teacher education programs at California State University, Fresno; Stone Child College; Jackson State University; and New Mexico State, Las Cruces. In addition, each of these schools was given a $50,000 capacity building grant from CMSI. With this money, these institutions have been developing new models of university-school partnerships, enriching student teaching and clinical practice, expanding coursework on cultural diversity and educational equity, working to align teaching practices with the Common Core, and helping prospective teachers to pass high-stakes exams which allow them to get their certification and begin teaching in high-needs schools.

Helping Minority Serving Institutions just might be the best way to address some of the worrisome surrounding minority teachers. All I can say is that, for me, my experience at this year’s AERA further confirmed this to be true.

Alice E. Ginsberg is Assistant Director for Research at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. She also teaches urban education and teacher research in Penn’s Teach for America masters program.

Reflections on the ROI Convening: MSIs are worth the investment

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Casey Boland

The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions recently released Investing in Student Success: The Return on Investment of Minority Serving Institutions. This report grew from the National MSI Return on Investment Convening held last December. The convening continued the conversation on how Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) educate and graduate substantial numbers of low-income and first-generation students of color. Within a heightened policy climate of accountability that emphasizes return on investment (ROI), MSIs now more than ever must learn to clearly convey their strengths and accomplishments. The ROI Convening was just one attempt to further this cause. Through research paper presentations, impact talks, and small working groups, the convening highlighted what makes MSIs a powerful force in the present and future of higher education. It also offered collaborative environments for contemplating and creating actionable plans of action for institutions to better serve their students and communities.

As a participant in the ROI convening, I observed several reoccurring themes throughout the presentations and discussions. What follows are my five key takeaways and recommendations. I think I speak on behalf on most in attendance that the event was a reminder of the vital work of MSIs and an incubator for future ideas on how to further their missions.

1) MSIs are worth the investment

Through an assortment of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, the paper presenters proved that MSIs are worth the investment:

  • In their paper assessing the impact of a federally funded learning community program at an AANAPISI community college, Cynthia Alcantar demonstrated that the program substantially boosted degree attainment, increased transfer to four-year institutions, and lessened students’ time to advance from developmental to college-level classes.
  • Ginger Stull and Stephanie Rainie addressed how MSIs need not subscribe to the common measures of success. They argued that institutions like TCUs promote atypical ROI measures arising from the institutions themselves rather than external forces. These characteristics include critical thinking, self-esteem, leadership, and community engagement. Though MSIs must be mindful of expectations (especially in terms of outside funding), Stull and Rainie raised the important point that MSIs must write their own narratives and avoid repeating verbatim the narrative of lawmakers and foundations driving specific agendas.
  • Toby Park and Stella Flores along with Terrell Strayhorn tackled the topic of workforce ROI. Park and Flores found that Latino graduates of HSIs have earnings comparable to Latinos from non-HSIs, after controlling for institutional selectivity. Meanwhile, Strayhorn demonstrated that HBCU graduates show positive returns on investment in occupational status and Black identity after controlling for institutional selectivity.

2) Who are the investors?

One participant asked: who are the investors? It’s a question we should ask ourselves whenever discussing the future mission of MSIs. MSIs rely on federal discretionary grant funding and state allocations. Several people spoke of the necessity of pressing policymakers to loosen the purse strings. Talk of finance leaned towards demanding our government leaders to boost state and federal funding. Indeed, state and federal funding has declined precipitously over the past two decades. Many states have nudged their appropriations somewhat. Yet state and federal funding will likely not return to prior high water marks. While policymakers must be kept aware of the importance of funding MSIs, relying solely on public appropriations is myopic. It avoids the thornier option of seeking alternative funding sources. Indeed, MSIs must continue to seek out federal research grants. More sustainable funding sources must be sought and nurtured, including development via alumni and relationships with local business and industry.

3) Understanding we’re not all “numbers people”

Based on participant discussions throughout the convening, many were skeptical of statistical analyses. I suspect there are two reasons for this: 1. Not everyone has taken statistics. The quantitative studies with regression models were likely lost on those who mistake degrees of freedom as a measure of a nation’s level of liberty. 2. Though they can and should be an instrument of good, data have been used as weapons against HBCUs and MSIs. We need look no further than the sadly routine media bashing of HBCUs as antiquated and ineffectual institutions. Given the widespread unfamiliarity with quantitative methods, the convening emphasized that presenters of statistical studies must make greater efforts to carefully define terminology and the overall context of their findings.

4) Importance of self-assessment

Conducting routine evaluation of federal grant-funded programs can reveal the real power of MSIs. The paper “The Return on Investment for an AANAPISI-Funded Program: Outcomes for Asian American and Pacific Islander Community College Students” provides an exemplary framework for conducting a rigorous assessment. Program evaluation offers MSIs a critical opportunity to rigorously suss out what works and what doesn’t. MSI students are not properly served by grant-funded projects that fail to support their needs and progress. While program evaluations signal the strengths of MSIs to policymakers, they also measure the efficacy of MSI programs in supporting their students.

5) We’re in this together

Despite a feeling of congeniality and mutual respect, there were moments of critical discussion. We in the academic and education and social justice communities welcome respectful critique and reasoned argument. Yet our conversations sometimes veer too far from the path of logical thought and action. Given the fiscal reality noted above, it is more important than ever for MSIs to combine forces. It serves no one when MSIs and the advocacy organizations that promote them compete with one another and carve out separate spheres of influences. One of the most important elements of MSIs is their rejection of traditional higher education competitive characteristics. We’re in this together. We persevere together and fail when divided.

Casey Boland is a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and a research assistant at the Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Count Me In: Valuing, Embracing and Affirming the Lives of Black Women in Higher Education

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Ashley Hazelwood

“You just slammed my head to the ground. Do you not even care about that?” screamed 28 year-old Sandra Bland. The young Black woman was ripped out of her car on the way to her new job, slammed to the ground, and arrested as she screamed for help. Less than 72 hours later, she was found dead in her jail cell. Sandra’s offense? She failed to use the turn signal in order to change lanes.

Sandra Bland’s experience is not unique. It represents the fact of being a Black woman in the United States, where women like fifteen-year-old Dajerria Becton are slammed down and forcefully restrained by police because some believe Black kids should return to their “section 8 public housing.” It joins cases like the shooting of innocent bystander Rekia Boyd, a Black woman shot and killed by Officer Dante Servin who fired in Boyd’s direction thinking he saw a gun that actually turned out to be a cell phone.

Is being a Black woman unacceptable in the United States? And, as this blog post will address, what about the lives of Black women in higher education? What can we do to ensure these lives are protected, acknowledged, and supported?

As a Black woman pursuing a doctoral degree in higher education, I am most concerned with hastening the critical shift that must occur to drastically reform the paradigm of the Black women college experience. Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), specifically Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), are in a privileged position to respond to this challenge simply because they serve a large percentage of Black women in college. These institutions must capitalize on the valuable access they provide to Black women.

In order to fully embody the critical narrative of Black women, I took to interviewing and discussing these topics with senior level Black women administrators in higher education. What these women shared was extremely profound. While not an exhaustive list, the following points explore what I summate to be the major challenges facing Black women, while also suggesting critical steps MSIs might consider instituting in order to solve these issues.

The Right to Choose and Assign Value to Ourselves. Black women are often forced to choose amongst the most salient aspects of our identities—womanhood or Blackness. Oftentimes, these identities are pitted against one another. In spaces of higher education, Black women are pressured to assume one identity over the other by their peers, professors, or institutionalized policies and practices. Such environmental pressure neglects the fact that identity for Black women is intersectional and fluid. The feminist and social activist Gloria Jean Watkins, better known as Black-American author bell hooks, eloquently addresses this challenge in her classic piece Ain’t I A Woman: “Contemporary black women could not join together to fight for women’s rights because we did not see ‘womanhood’ as an important aspect of our identity. Racist, sexist socialization had conditioned us to devalue our femaleness and to regard race as the only relevant label of identification. In other words, we were asked to deny a part of ourselves—and we did.”

Dr. Kimberly Lowry, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Success at Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas suggests that MSIs can create a safe space for Black women to be vulnerable but feel supported. The implementation of Sistah circles, mentor groups, learning communities and service learning projects were among many of the helpful support mechanisms offered by Dr. Lowry.

For Us, BY Us. Systemic change must occur to address the unjust policies and practices affecting Black women. These policies and practices must be turned on their heads and dismantled in order for transformative change to occur. One administrator interviewed for this project at Dillard University offered critical insight into the systematic changes that must be enacted in order to circumvent the en masse devaluation of the Black women. She explained, “In the past two Presidential elections, Black women led all demographic groups in voter turnout, while remaining underrepresented in elected offices. Shockingly, for 15 consecutive years not one Black woman has held a seat in the U.S. Senate. Black women should chant the Patrick Henry adage: “No Taxation without Representation.””

These comments demonstrate the importance of Black women being groomed for positions of political influence. MSIs should begin this process by establishing curriculums and learning experiences geared toward political careers. Dillard University has begun the transformation process by establishing a center dedicated to pre-law and public interest positions such as mayors, judges and prosecutors. At Dillard, the majority of students groomed to take advantage of the center’s political focus are women of color, many of whom are Black women. The promotion of such a center has empowered Black women to explore and pursue political career fields in which they have not traditionally been encouraged. Nonetheless, holding seats of political prominence can impact everlasting change for Black women.

It Takes More Than A Village. There are few to no campaigns, projects, or events that champion the needs of Black women at large. While there are small pockets of individuals doing this work there must be a greater national focus and attention given to Black women. Furthermore, in order for Black women to gain the leverage and support needed to succeed in college and abroad, there must be a network of allies established to push the cause forward. Latino men and women, white men and women, Black men, members of the LGBTQ community and many other constituents are desired and needed advocates.

In my discussion with Jade Perry, Coordinator of Multicultural Student Success at DePaul University and contributing writer for online/print platforms such as Heed Magazine and ForHarriet.com, she suggests college campuses need to be more proactive in advocating for Black women in academia. She says, “That might look like individual meetings with students. That might look like hosting programs and forums to talk about some of these pressing issues. That might look like education, training, and deeper collaboration with colleagues who are charged with campus safety. That might look like pushing the conversation forward on an administrative level. At the end of the day, institutions and individuals have to ask the question: What can I do from where I am?”

These approaches suggest that everyone can contribute to the solution by working to bring justice to Black women by establishing a sound commitment to the support of Black women within the various environments in which they reside.

Special Note: A sincere thank you to Black women everywhere as well as those who contributed greatly to the completion of this article. Without your voices and your truths, this piece would not have been possible. Special recognition goes out to Dr. Kimberly Lowry, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Success at Eastfield College, Dr. Lupita Rasheed, Director of Development at Richland College, Dr. Toby Jenkins, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at Georgia Southern University and Jade Perry, M.Ed, Coordinator of Multicultural Student Success at DePaul University.

Ashley Hazelwood is a doctoral student at the University of North Texas Graduate School of Education and a former summer intern at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.