BPS faulted for lack of diversity among teachers
The Boston public school system has failed to take sufficient steps to increase teacher diversity, and consequently its teaching force is no more diverse today than it was a decade ago, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Boston Teachers Union and several organizations representing people of color.
In a district where the overwhelming majority of students are black, Latino, or Asian, Boston’s teaching force is predominantly white. During the last school year, just 20 percent of teachers were black, 10 percent were Latino, and 6 percent were Asian, according to the report, “Broken Promises: Teacher Diversity in Boston Public Schools.”
“There is nothing magical behind the positive impact that teachers of color have on students of color,” the groups wrote in the paper. “All students benefit from exposure to teachers of all races. And all teachers need support and professional development, particularly in developing culturally responsive practices for the multiracial classrooms they teach. It is time that Boston make its policies a reality, for the betterment of all of our youth.”
Matthew Cregor, education project director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, said the hiring issues are “going to take some significant attention to resolve.”
The Boston school system has been struggling for decades to fully comply with a 1970s federal court order that set minimum quotas for the racial and ethnic makeup of its teaching force. Under the order, at least 25 percent of the system’s 4,500 teachers are supposed to be black. But the school system only briefly met or exceeded that threshold in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The order also requires another 10 percent of the teaching force to comprise other ethnic and racial minorities, and the school system has met and exceeded that requirement for many years. Some advocates, however, argue that the school system should strive to greatly exceed those thresholds, noting that 42 percent of the system’s students are Latino, compared with 10 percent of its teachers.
Boston school officials Wednesday agreed the teaching force needs to better reflect the demographics of its students, and stressed they have been placing greater emphasis on that goal in recent years. They said they have about a dozen programs that aim to recruit and retain teachers of color.
“We are going to do everything we can to make sure we have a team of adults that reflects the cultural, racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds of our students,” Superintendent Tommy Chang said in an interview. “We’ve been working on a number of programs that I believe are helping to turn the corner on this.”
Last year, the school system wrapped up one of its best hiring seasons, with 43 percent of new teachers positions going to candidates of color. Yet the recruitment efforts increased the representation of black and Latino teachers by less than 1 percent, according to data the school system provided to the Globe.
One of the biggest challenges the school system has faced in diversifying its teaching force has been keeping teachers in the system, school officials and the advocacy organizations said.
For instance, many of the teachers hired in the early years of the federal court order have been retiring, while other teachers have been leaving the system for a variety of reasons, including being lured away by other systems trying to diversify their teaching ranks.
Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, said the school system needs to be more innovative in coming up with new ways to recruit teachers of color to the system.
“I think part of the challenge for BPS has been a lack of intentionality in developing and implementing initiatives that can help to move the needle on teacher diversity,” she said.
She also said it is difficult for the school system to hold any one person accountable for diversity hiring, because the initiatives have been spread across so many different departments within the central offices, as well as among the system’s 125 school principals and headmasters who have gained hiring autonomy in recent years.
The organizations behind the report include the NAACP’s Boston chapter, the Massachusetts Asian American Educators Association, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, the Greater Boston Latino Network, the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network, the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, the Boston Teachers Union, and the Boston Network for Black Student Achievement.
The report recommends that the school system expand some of its existing programs, particularly those that target local candidates who are more apt to stay in the system. Those programs include one that mentors high school students to become teachers and another that trains classroom aides to be teachers.
Other recommendations include giving hiring priorities to teachers of color whose positions have been eliminated due to budget cuts at individual schools in the system, and offering other teachers early in their careers “letters of reasonable assurance” that they will have a position for the next school year.
“Together with our allies who organized this report, we share the goal of improving teacher diversity within BPS, as well as the very important reasons why that improvement must be prioritized,” Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to collaborating with BPS leadership and other stakeholders to advance these recommendations.”