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Hiring teachers of color is an investment in student success, group says

June 13, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Of the 62 recommendations Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza embraced on Monday to improve diversity in New York City public schools, only six focused on the teachers at the front of the classroom. Those recommendations push the city to better report on diversity among faculty and to study ways to be more inclusive.

But one group says there’s a simpler, better solution: steer funds to recruit more teachers of color.

“Our focus is really around diversifying the teacher workforce,” Educators for Excellence-New York Executive Director Paula White told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We’re looking at putting money where our sort of policy mouth is, if you will.”

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Thirteen members of White’s educator-led advocacy group traveled to Albany last Tuesday to discuss the current state of diversity in city education — and to push for funding to fix it.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, students of color who study with a teacher of color perform three to six percentile points higher on reading and math tests than those without.

Yet more than half of all Brooklyn school teachers were white in the 2015-16 school year, even though white students made up just 18 percent of the student population, according to the the most recent data available.

The numbers, provided by The Education Trust of New York and now nearly three years old, compare student and teacher racial makeup from borough to borough.

According to the statistics, white educators accounted for more than half of the teacher population, on average, in every borough but the Bronx, where the average ratio fell just shy of 50 percent from 2015 to 2016.

White students, however, accounted for no more than 18 percent of the student body in any of the five boroughs. In Brooklyn, an average of 18 percent of the student body was white that school year.

Meanwhile, the totals of black, Latino and Asian students all surpassed their educator counterparts, according to the data. The same can be said for every other borough.

Data provided by The Education Trust-New York for 2015 to 2016. Images courtesy of Educators for Excellence-New York

Educators for Excellence has since asked the State Education Department to double the funding for My Brother’s Keeper Teacher Opportunity Corps — a state grant program that partners with teacher preparation programs to recruit, train and support new teachers of color entering the profession – to $7 million.

They also want the release of a crucial report on classroom diversity — new data to replace the outdated statistics.

According to the group, the Fiscal Year 2019 budget required the State Education Department to release a report on New York’s teacher workforce diversity by June 2019. That report has not yet been published.

“Without that sort of information, prospective candidates are less likely to make informed decisions,” White said.

Claire Skotnes, a Brooklyn high school teacher at Bushwick Leaders High School for Academic Excellence, maintains that there’s an important impact of diverse classroom leadership for white students, as well.

“Growing up as a white student in a majority white school, I had few role models and teachers of color. I lacked the experience learning from and building relationships with people that have different backgrounds than me,” Skotnes said.

“Today, I teach at a high school that is working to diversify its staff and ensure that our almost entirely minority student body sees itself in the staff standing in front of them every day. You can already feel the impact that having leaders of color in the front of the classroom has on students in student discipline, school culture and academics.”

Nathaniel Styer, a Brooklyn resident and the managing director of external affairs at Educators for Excellence-New York, said that while the city’s support of the School Diversity Advisory Group’s suggestions is a significant step in the right direction, there’s more to do.

“What we need is state-wide investment,” Styer told the Eagle. “That is why our educators are calling on the legislature in Albany to make a budgetary investment.”

Educators for Excellence-New York was “excited to see the Mayor and Chancellor endorsing” the lot of SDAG recommendations, echoed Styer. But, “unfortunately, none of them targeted recruiting and training excellent teachers of color.” The closest they came was the recommendation that the DOE “in a valid and reliable manner, report on the diversity of school-based staff by position at the district- and city-level, and at the school level where appropriate,” he added.

The DOE, in response, pointed the Eagle to a program called NYC Men Teach, a partnership between the mayor’s office, the DOE and the City University of New York which engages and recruits men of color to become New York City school teachers through early career support, professional development, mentoring and networking services.

The group surpassed its goal of adding 1,000 male teachers of color into the pipeline by 2018, according to DOE spokesperson Doug Cohen.

“We have a holistic approach to recruiting a diverse workforce, and we’re proud to adopt School Diversity Advisory Group recommendations that build on this work and make it a priority for years to come,” Cohen said in a statement.

While it is a good program, White said, it is “only one.”

“This is the largest public school system in the country, so we have to be very bold when it comes to what we want to do [to increase diversity], or else the numbers will trickle upward,” she told the Eagle. “Perhaps, somewhere else, some of these programs would be more than enough, but not in New York City where there are more than one million students.”

State Education Department officials told the Eagle Wednesday that they are working on completing the report as quickly as possible and hope to release it in late summer.

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