• Lebanon, Wilson County schools lag behind in educator diversity

    By Jared Felkins -

    A state Department of Education report released Wednesday showed both Wilson County Schools and Lebanon Special School District significantly trailed the state average in educator diversity and when compared to student diversity in the two districts. 

    Education Commissioner Candice McQueen released the new report to provide insight on the racial and ethnic makeup of Tennessee’s student body and educator workforce, as well as outline where the department and districts across the state can go. Additionally, for the first time, the department released detailed demographic information by district to increase awareness and prompt further conversations.

    In Wilson County Schools, 92.5 percent of teachers and nearly 86 percent of administrators were white, compared to 83.1 percent white teachers and 75.7 percent white administrators statewide. In Lebanon schools, the teacher average was the same as Wilson County, but the administrator average is 93.8 percent among white educators. 

    The largest minority group for educators was African American across the state; 17.9 percent were administrators and 11 percent were teachers. In Wilson County Schools, 4.7 percent of administrators and 1.9 percent of teachers were African American. Lebanon schools had no African-American administrators, and 5.4 percent of teachers were African American. 

    In other minority groups, 0.1 percent of Wilson County teachers were American Indian or Alaska Native, as well as Asian, 0.8 percent were Hispanic or Latino and 0.6 percent were two or more races. In Lebanon schools, 0.4 percent were Asian. Statewide, 0.1 percent were American Indian or Alaskan, 0.2 percent were Asian, 0.7 percent were Hispanic or Latino, 0.1 percent were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 0.3 percent were two or more races and 5 percent were unidentified among administrators. Teachers statewide were 0.1 percent American Indian or Alaskan, 0.4 percent Asian, 1.1 percent Hispanic or Latino, 0.1 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 0.4 percent were two or more races and 3.9 percent were unidentified. 

    There were 9.4 percent of administrators and 4 percent of teachers in Wilson County Schools and 6.3 percent of administrators and 1.7 percent of teachers in Lebanon schools who were unidentified. 

    By comparison, 82.3 percent of students were white, 8.9 percent were African American, 5.7 percent were Hispanic or Latino, 2.6 percent were Asian and 0.2 percent were Native American or Alaskan in Wilson County Schools. Lebanon schools were made up of 65 percent white, 18.2 percent African American, 14.4 percent Hispanic or Latino, 1.8 percent Asian and 0.5 percent Native American or Alaskan students. 

    In 2017-18, 37 percent of Tennessee students were students of color, but teachers of color represented only 13 percent of the teacher population. This gap between students and teachers of color in Tennessee mirrors a national trend, as across the United States, students of color make up 51 percent of the student body whereas teachers of color make up only 18 percent of the population. Additionally, since 2011–12, the overall percentage of teachers and administrators of color has remained fairly stable. In contrast, Tennessee’s students are increasingly racially and ethnically diverse.

    In 2017-18, half of Tennessee’s 147 districts had at least 95 percent white teachers. Furthermore, 40 districts had no African American teachers, and 50 districts had no Hispanic teachers. Only seven districts have more than 20 percent teachers of color, and all of these districts have greater than 50 percent students of color.

    In recent years, Tennessee has focused to strengthen the educator pipeline with specific attention on increasing the diversity of the educator workforce. In accordance with state law, the department recommends that school boards and local school districts establish reasonable, incremental goals for recruitment, employment, and retention of teachers of color. To set the goals, awareness of the importance and amount of teacher diversity was the first step.

    “Building a strong educator workforce that reflects the diverse backgrounds of our student body will benefit each and every one of Tennessee’s students,” McQueen said. “The department is committed to increasing awareness and providing supports and resources for local leaders as we work toward our goal of providing all students access to highly effective educators and the chance to learn from teachers who have a variety of perspectives.”

    In recent years, more studies have shown that students benefit from who have teachers from diverse backgrounds. Teachers of color serve as role models for students who share their racial and ethnic identity and raise expectations for learning through relationships with students and their families. Research has also shown that academically, teachers of color produce more favorable outcomes for students of similar backgrounds. Studies also suggest that white students who are exposed to diverse teachers are better prepared for life in a multi-cultural society.

    To provide more awareness and transparency about Tennessee’s educator workforce, district-level teacher and administrator race and ethnicity data from 2016-17 is available on the department’s data downloads page. This data was pulled from the state’s TNCompass system, and it was optional for districts and educators to report.

    In the 2018-19 school year, the department will also include educator race and ethnicity breakdowns within the school and district strategic planning tool to encourage more reflection on educator diversity when planning for improvements to human capital systems around recruitment and retention. Additionally, progress measures on recruitment and diversity are included in the state Board of Education’s Teacher Preparation Report Card and in the department’s annual reports on educator preparation.

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