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Mass. districts boosted teacher diversity over the last decade, but the diversity of the student population grew faster

Marcus Walker, a teacher at Fenway High School, in 2022.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Massachusetts school districts made significant gains in increasing the number of educators of color over the last 10 years, as they focused more intently on hiring a more diverse workforce in hopes of boosting student achievement, according to a new report.

But the diversity of the student population grew much faster during that same period. Students of color now account for nearly half of all public school enrollment, while educators of color make up only 10 percent of the workforce. Consequently, the hiring gains districts achieved had little impact in getting the state’s workforce to better reflect the demographics of the student population.

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In fact, the gap widened between the overall representation of educators of color and students of color from 26 percentage points to 35 percentage points, according to the report, “In Pursuit of Greatness: Bold Strategies to Grow a Strong and Diverse Educator Workforce,” which was produced by MassINC in partnership with Latinos for Education and Wheelock Educational Policy Center at Boston University.

If state policy makers fail to intervene, the gaps between the two could widen even further by the end of this decade.

“We like to call ourselves in Massachusetts a national leader in K-12 education, and in many respects we are, but I think we continue to face the facts: the state’s educator workforce doesn’t reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of the students in the Commonwealth,” said Amanda Fernandez, chief executive officer and founder of Latinos for Education.

The gains in workforce diversity, however, are still notable: In 2012, just 800 educators of color were hired, but in 2022 that number grew to 1,700, the report says. The increase in hires helped push the portion of the workforce composed of educators of color from 7 percent in 2012 to 10 percent in 2022.

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Latinos for Education released the report as it and other education advocacy organizations, school administrators, and teacher unions are pushing Beacon Hill lawmakers to pass a bill that would increase educator diversity through several different measures. That legislation would require districts to develop plans to recruit and retain educators of color and would give the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to grant individuals state educator licenses without passing the state’s licensing exams.

Many education advocates have raised concerns about racial disparities in pass rates on the licensing exams. About three-quarters of white and Asian test-takers passed the state’s communications literacy test — the most popular exam — compared with 56 percent of Latino test-takers and 48 percent of Black test-takers during the 2021-22 school year, according to the most recent state demographic analysis.

Several research studies have documented the academic benefits that occur when students of color have a teacher with the same racial, ethnic, or linguistic background. A 2020 study by the University of North Carolina School of Education, for instance, found Black students had higher educational attainment and lower rates of discipline when they had a Black teacher for at least one year in elementary school.

The demographic gaps between educators and students in Massachusetts fall somewhere in the middle of the pack among states nationwide, according to data by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Massachusetts education officials have worked with districts to increase workforce diversity, including a grant that helps districts pay for signing bonuses, relocation costs, and loan repayments.

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“We’ve made progress diversifying the educator workforce, and this report shows us the importance of expanding that work,” Jeffrey C. Riley, state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in a statement.

Some districts appear to be doing better than others with their diversity initiatives.

Gateway cities in Massachusetts posted the largest gains in educators of color, 10 percentage points, while urban districts in the central and the southeastern parts of the state had the smallest gains, just 1 to 3 percentage points, respectively, according to the report.

Springfield has been placing a strong emphasis on growing its own workforce to increase its diversity. The effort has included identifying high school students interested in careers in education, maintaining relationships with them in college, and guaranteeing them jobs when they graduate. The district also helps paraprofessionals become licensed teachers and requires principals to diversify their staff as part of their job performance review criteria.

Superintendent Daniel Warwick said the district had to look from within to increase the diversity of its workforce because convincing educators to move to the western part of the state can be a tough sell, and because enrollment in most college education preparatory programs are overwhelmingly white.

“Everyone has been working hard at this,” he said, noting the portion of Black educators over the last decade has grown from 10.7 percent to 17.6 percent and the portion of Hispanic educators has increased from 12.3 percent to 18.6 percent.

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The report recommended several measures to bolster educator diversity, which included allowing principals to determine who are effective teachers as an alternative way to licensing, and creating teacher apprenticeship programs.

“There’s going to have to be … some type of significant investment or seismic shift in the way we think about recruiting folks and making the workforce an appealing and attractive space,” said Meagan Comb, executive director of the Wheelock Educational Policy Center.

Olivia Chi, an assistant professor in the educational leadership and policy studies department at Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development, added, ”There’s no way for us to snap our fingers and close that representation gap overnight.”


James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him @globevaznis.