White Teachers in the Hood can't be all that Good
This post was inspired by my experiences in NYC schools and the following article:
I recently read a Washington Post article online titled “The troubling shortage of Latino and black teachers- and what to do about it”. In the article the research of Travis J. Bristol, a former NYC high school English teacher who is now a research and policy fellow at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, sheds light on the shortage of teachers of color in the New York City public school system, and not only why it's troubling but what administration, politicians, and teachers of teachers can do to amend this. In his research Bristol highlights statistics that are both alarming but unsurprising: the growth of Latino teachers has not kept pace with the exponential growth of Latino students, and the number of black teachers is shrinking. Schools are struggling to recruit and retain teachers of color, especially Black teachers, and according to Bristol this is a major cause for concern.
Why is this such a problem? Well, first: a lack of diversity is never a good thing. Students and teachers alike can learn from a diverse teacher and student body. Secondly, and most importantly: in the United States our demographic of teachers simply does not reflect our student body. Bristol claims that students of color benefit from having teachers of color; in fact, teachers of color tend to have higher expectations for their students of color than their white colleagues. This is not to say that teachers of color should exclusively teach students of color, or simply hiring more Latino and Black teachers will close the achievement gap. It’s not that simple. But it’s clear that we would all benefit from a diverse teacher population. Our demographic of teachers should be as diverse as our students in every school. Not only is it beneficial to every student, it speaks to the progress of higher education and our society, a society that just 50 years ago would deny many people of color a formal education.
Bristol goes further than just acknowledging that a homogenous teacher population presents a problem. He even offers a “game plan” for researchers, teachers, and policymakers to follow if they aim to recruit and retain teachers of color. I won’t divulge all of the details of Bristol’s plan but I will briefly summarize some interesting points Bristol makes. He argues that teacher preparation programs should “support the unique needs of preservice teachers of color.” These needs are not defined because these needs might vary from teacher to teacher as “teachers of color” is not a homogenous group but rather a diverse group of people with similar, though not identical, experiences. Bristol also states that professional development should be designed taking into account the experiences of teachers of color. He doesn’t go into detail on what these experiences entail and how PD might change as a result of it as this may vary from one school district to another.
Though I appreciate Bristol’s effort in highlighting a real need for change in educational policy if schools aim to recruit and retain teachers of color, I don’t think there’s as much as a need for “differentiated learning opportunities” for teachers of color to recruit and retain us as much as there’s a need to focus on inclusivity and multiculturalism during both the recruiting and hiring process. Let’s face it: as a teacher of color you are less likely than a white teacher to work in a school that offers a competitive salary (and benefits). According to New York City Independent Budget’s publication “A Statistical Portrait of New York City’s Public School Teachers” in 2012, 76% of all teachers in NYC were female and almost 60% of them were white. It’s safe to say that the teaching force in one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. is dominated by white females. It also highlights that: “When schools are subdivided in terms of poverty, the percentage of white teachers is considerably lower and the percentage of black and Hispanic teachers higher, in high-poverty schools compared with low-poverty schools.” Most Latino and Black teachers work in high-poverty schools. I wonder, however, what about this charter school movement? How about the charters that are in low-income neighborhoods but the funds are pouring in? Do those schools also hire mostly Latino and Black educators? Doubt it.
In 2012 Black and Latino teachers represented only 34% of the teaching force and about 50% were in high-poverty schools. In contrast, white teachers make up about 60% of the teaching force and a whopping 72.5% of them in low-poverty schools.
I firmly believe that every single public school, charter or otherwise, should offer the best education to every student. In an ideal world it would not matter whether you were in East New York or in Gramercy Park in Manhattan every student would be offered the same quality education and every passionate teacher would be offered the same, equal opportunities. We do not live in an ideal world. I especially remember this when I step into a charter school with a mostly white teaching force and mostly Latino and Black students. The reality is that NYC schools with higher funding, possibly higher salaries, more opportunities for career growth, better professional development, and more often than not better resources for teachers and students alike, tend to flaunt a mostly white teacher force. And I don't think they care to do anything to change that. That is both scary and dangerous for our students.