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Boston struggles to diversify teaching ranks

Wave of retirements thinning ranks of black educators

Brenda Chaney, who was hired to teach in Boston in 1977, retired this summer.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Boston's public school system is struggling — and failing — to satisfy a federal mandate to diversify its ranks of teachers, a requirement made all the more difficult as a generation of the city's black educators retires.

Even amid ongoing efforts to diversify, the district is falling short of US District Judge Arthur Garrity's 1985 court order requiring 25 percent black and 10 percent "other minority" teachers, part of Garrity's historic school desegregation plan.

The district meets Garrity's standard for Hispanic and Asian teachers, but just 22.7 percent of last year's Boston Public Schools teachers were black, according to state data.


Many of the city's black teachers were hired in the 1970s and 1980s, following orders from Garrity, and have reached retirement age. Last year, 73 percent more black teachers left Boston schools than could be replaced with external hires, according to the district, and high levels of retirement are expected to continue.

The district could have foreseen the retirements and acted sooner, said Travis J. Bristol, a research and policy fellow at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education who has studied diversity in Boston schools.

"Until there is a crisis, there isn't a need to address the issue," he said. "I don't think that's true only of Boston; I just think it's true of large bureaucracies."

It is not uncommon for schools to "operate in crisis mode," he said.

The district's new superintendent, Tommy Chang, has pledged to build a workforce that looks more like Boston's students, who are 86 percent black, Hispanic, and Asian.

"We are not only committed, but we are working pretty vigorously to ensure we have a more diverse workplace," Chang said.

The effort began to bear fruit in early hiring this year. Nearly a quarter of the new teachers hired between March and Aug. 13 were black, despite a pool that included only 8 percent black applicants.


And the district is seeing early success in recruiting Boston high school students to pursue education careers: 47 percent of participants in its High School to Teacher Program are black and 39 percent are Latino.

School officials say they are ramping up diversity efforts through the Office of Human Capital, created last year by consolidating the offices of Human Resources and Educator Effectiveness.

The office is now posting teaching jobs as early as March — when a diverse candidate pool is available — through an early hiring initiative begun last year under then-interim Superintendent John McDonough.

"You're competing for the best talent, rather than what we used to do, which was in August kind of look for who's still out there," said Emily Kalejs Qazilbash, assistant superintendent of human capital.

Brenda Chaney, a Boston teacher who retired this summer, said she believes she would not have gotten her job in 1977 if not for the Garrity orders.

But after that long-ago recruitment drive, she saw little further effort, she said, even in recent years, as she watched many friends retire.

"I was the last one," Chaney said.

"You would think they would try to start to replace some of us, but they weren't really good at going through the effort."

Chaney said BPS must cast a wider net nationally, particularly at historically black colleges, and work against the perception that Boston is racist, another holdover of the desegregation crisis.


Michael Contompasis, a former Boston interim schools superintendent, said the department has long been committed to diversity, but fewer black and Hispanic students are drawn to teaching as more lucrative fields have become welcoming.

"The State Streets of the world, the BNY Mellons of the world — everybody is looking to make certain that they are attracting a diverse workforce," Contompasis said.

Already, Boston's 22.7 percent for the last school year gave it the highest proportion of black teachers in the state. Second was Cambridge, with 7.9 percent, about 4 percent lower than that city's black population.

Of 1,600 black teachers statewide, about 835 — more than half — worked in Boston.

Nationally, 6.8 percent of US public school teachers were black and 7.8 percent were Hispanic in 2011-2012, according to federal data.

These numbers reflect a shortage of minority students entering teaching programs, educators say.

In 2012-2013, 5.6 percent of Massachusetts students in educator preparation programs were black and 3.8 percent were Hispanic, state data show.

Nationwide, 8.6 percent of teaching students were black and 10.6 percent were Hispanic in 2009-2010, according to the National Education Association.

Some universities are attempting to address the disparity.

The Harvard Teacher Fellows Program, launching this fall, will send Harvard College students into public schools with mostly minority students. Eric H. Shed, director of the program, said he is reaching out to black and Hispanic student groups for recruitment.

"We think that there's going to be a value that they'll bring to kids in the classroom by being of similar backgrounds," Shed said.


James "Timo" Philip, who was among the first wave of post-Garrity black teachers hired in 1974 and who retired in 2012, said such outreach is vital.

"You've got to go where the young teachers are," Philip said.

"In the years I taught at Brighton High School, I saw very few young black student teachers."

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.