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Quest for teacher diversity brings U.S. schools chief John King and Boston educators together

U.S. Secretary of Education John King meets with students at Gardner Pilot Academy in Boston.
U.S. Secretary of Education John King meets with students at Gardner Pilot Academy in Boston.
Nicholas Garcia

Seventh graders at the Gardner Pilot Academy in Boston want to be football players, marine biologists, and engineers when they grow up.

That’s what they told U.S Secretary of Education John King when he visited their class on Tuesday. Not one said he or she intends to become a teacher.

Their answers bode poorly for King’s inchoate efforts to encourage more men of color to become educators, which he discussed with teachers from across the city after visiting a science class.

King’s efforts at the U.S. Department of Education, where he assumed leadership earlier this year, join a growing movement to attract more teachers of color to the profession. They are fueled by research showing that teachers of color set higher academic expectations and issue less punitive discipline for students of color.

King — himself once a black teacher in Boston who has attributed his own success in part to teachers of color in his Brooklyn elementary school — said he doesn’t want diversity of the teaching force left up to chance.

“Unless states and districts are intentional about the issue of teacher diversity, it won’t happen,” King said.

King encouraged the teachers to be involved in helping Massachusetts write its new state education plan. The plan, which is required under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, must address how the state plans to address a number of issues including academic standards, testing, and teacher preparation.

But the teachers said they would appreciate help from King. They asked for funding and support to help connect black and Latino teachers with one another, even if they are in different states.

“It’s important to share your experiences with other people who look like you,” said Garcia Dalzon, a history teacher at East Boston High.

Several of the teachers who spoke to King are part of a Boston Public Schools initiative to retain black male teachers. The three-year-old program, Male Educators of Color, connects black teachers from across the district and provides specialized training for them.

“It’s really important for black and Latino boys to to see men in these roles so they can think to themselves, ‘I can do that,’” said Carroll Blake, who heads Gardner’s governing board.

But the teachers said more sweeping efforts are needed to dramatically change the makeup of the teaching force.

“It strikes me as a start,” said Chima Ikonne, a high school English teacher, about the efforts that King suggested. “We can’t say this is enough.”

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