Teacher diversity called an issue

City councillors are pushing the school department to increase the number of teachers of color, citing a federal court order that requires the department to maintain the number of black teachers at 25 percent, at a minimum. “That is not the case today,” District 7 Councillor Tito Jackson said at an Education Committee hearing last week.

“This is not our suggestion; there’s a court order on the books that we as a city – I can’t say we’re ignoring – but we’re definitely not following,” he added.

There are some 1,200 black teachers in the city’s schools, or 21.9 percent of the 5,512 teachers in all, according to figures provided by Boston Public Schools.

The court order, put in place by a judge during desegregation efforts, also requires 10 percent “other minority” teachers. The city meets that requirement with a 15.3 percent number; nearly 10 percent of teachers are Hispanic, while 5.2 percent are Asian.

Out of 57,133 pupils in the system, 87 percent are students of color. Forty percent are Hispanic and 8.6 percent are Asian. Black students make up 36.4 percent.

Gender diversity among teachers should also be a priority for the school department, City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley said. “Research shows us that the lack of racial and ethnic diversity as well as the underrepresentation of males in our classrooms contributes to the persistent achievement gap we see in our schools,” she said. “It also has a social impact on our students. Seeing yourself reflected in the world, whether it’s in a teacher or doctor, helps students understand that they can achieve.”

Twenty-five percent of teachers are male, according to a 2012 Boston Public Schools presentation to the School Committee. About thirty percent of headmasters and principals are male, according to the same document.

One former student, Norberto Nazario, testified that he dropped out of high school in 2010 because, he said, he didn’t get the support he needed from his teachers, nearly all of whom were white. The 18 year old is now receiving help from school officials, who approached him after the hearing about taking night classes.

Superintendent Carol Johnson said as teachers of color have retired, they haven’t been able to recruit replacements as quickly. Boston is also competing with other cities, like Washington, D.C., she said.
“We are moving forward,” Johnson told the Education Committee last Thursday. “I think we don’t have the numbers here that we would like to see.”

Numbers vary by school, and Johnson said there are schools that have large percentages of teachers of color.

Pressley, who is black, said she has been deployed to help attract conferences to the city. She offered herself and Jackson as possible ambassadors to teachers.

Boston has a racially charged past, she said, and it can be difficult to get people from other cities to come here.

Jackson told school officials that they should involve the NAACP and the National Association of Black Educators in their recruitment efforts.

School officials say they’ve ramped up efforts in the last several months, pointing to a diversity-focused committee, networking meetings set up by the Office of Educator Effectiveness and Human Resources, and more support for teachers of color in their second and third years, ensuring they receive professional licensure.

Robert Marshall, a retired teacher who testified on behalf of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, said the system needs a “sustained pipeline.” Marshall, who retired in 2007 after 30 years working in the Boston Public Schools, said the group has offered up recommendations to increase the number of teachers of color.

“We talk, they listen, nothing’s done,” he said.