teachers of color

How diverse is the teaching force in your district? A new analysis highlights the gap between students and teachers of color

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Maria Siskar vividly remembers when she was in 8th grade the grade she now teaches at Girls Prep Bronx Middle School.

She had just moved from Venezuela to Florida, but didn’t have immigration papers and couldn’t speak English. Today, many of her students can relate to her story when she tells it to them especially those who are undocumented immigrants themselves. Will my parents be able to stay in the country? some ask her. Will I be able to attend college?

“My own role of being Latina, it has helped me make more of a connection with my girls,” Siskar said. “They see me as one of them.”

Siskar’s bond with her students is backed by research: While students of color can develop deep ties with any teacher, there is evidence that having a teacher who resembles them can help improve their test scores, provide them a role model, and raise expectations of what they can accomplish.

Yet in New York City, as in districts across the country, there is a glaring disconnect between many students’ race or ethnicity and their teachers’: While 83 percent of New York City students are Asian, black or Latino, only 39 percent of teachers are, according to 2015-16 state data compiled by Education Trust-New York, an advocacy group that tries to improve outcomes for students of color. (Education Trust and Chalkbeat both receive funding from the Gates Foundation.)

“We know from powerful national research the importance of an educator workforce that is highly skilled, well-prepared, and diverse,” said Ian Rosenblum, the group’s executive director.

Below are five big takeaways from the data, along with a searchable database of student and teacher demographics in each of the city’s 32 community districts and every borough. 

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

1.) The biggest gap is between Latino students and teachers.

As the share of Latino and Asian students in New York City has climbed in recent decades, the number of teachers from those groups has not kept up.

According to the analysis, 41 percent of city students are Latino while only 15 of teachers are a 26 percentage-point gap. By contrast, the black student-teacher gap is 9 points and the Asian gap is 10 points.

This phenomenon holds across all five boroughs. In Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, the share of Latino students is more than double that of teachers; in Queens and Staten Island, there are three times more Latino students than teachers.

 

2.) A striking number of schools have no Asian, black, or Latino teachers.

If teachers of color are underrepresented across the school system, certain groups are not represented at all at scores of schools.

A full 88 schools (6 percent) have no Latino teachers, 144 schools (9 percent) lack a single black teacher, and 327 schools (21 percent) have zero Asian teachers on staff.

3.) White students miss out on educator diversity too   

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

White students are especially likely to learn in schools without any non-white teachers further isolating students who may already have limited exposure to students of different races.

Five percent of white students attend schools without any Latino teachers, 19 percent have no black teachers, and 16 percent have no Asian teachers.

Without teacher diversity, white students like their non-white peers may be ill-equipped to enter increasingly diverse workplaces, said Rosenblum of EdTrust-NY.

“It’s important that all students see people of color in positions of authority,” he said. “Especially if you think about the fact that there are so many highly segregated schools where students may not interact with many peers of other races or ethnicities.”  

4.) Charter schools have a higher share of teachers of color, but a larger gap student-teacher gap.

For charter schools, there’s good and bad news.

On the plus side, charter schools have a slightly higher percentage of non-white teachers (43%) than district schools (39%).

However, because charter schools overall serve a higher share of students of color, the gap between their teaching force and students is larger: 94 percent of charter school students are Asian, black or Latino, while just 43 percent of their teachers are non-white — a 51 percentage-point gap.

5.) Some districts have many Asian students but few Asian teachers.

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

Along with Latinos, Asians are one of the city’s fastest-growing student groups. While the share of black and white students has declined since 1990, the share of Asian students has doubled, to 16 percent.

Yet as with Latinos the teaching force does not reflect this change. Today, Asians make up a large share of students in parts of the city, yet they see few teachers who look like them.

Take two districts in Queens: District 25 in North Queens and District 26 located on the edge of Nassau County. While about half the students in each district are Asian, only 11 percent of teachers are. Similar disparities exist in other areas of the city, like in Brooklyn’s District 20.

Use the tool below to find the percentage of students and teachers in your district and borough broken down by race/ethnicity. You can also see the citywide rates, and the rates for district and charter schools. 

charter talks

Hopson weighs charters as school turnaround tool for Shelby County Schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson leads Shelby County Schools in Memphis, home to Tennessee's highest concentration of low-performing schools.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has opened a crack in the door to charter school partnerships that might help his district avoid losing more schools to Tennessee’s turnaround district.

Hopson emailed his principals this week to clarify his recent comments to the editorial board of The Commercial Appeal about possibly recruiting charter organizations for turnaround work. The report’s original headline read: “Hopson says he’s willing to hand schools over to charters, if they have a plan for improvement.”

The superintendent quickly turned to Twitter to label the headline “misleading and inaccurate” and, as he sought to regain control of dialogue on the thorny matter, dispatched an email to his school principals.

“…It is my top priority to ensure all of our schools have the necessary resources to provide students with the high-quality education they deserve,” he wrote on Tuesday. “If the Tennessee Department of Education offers us the opportunity to select a charter operator that is willing to collaborate closely with District leaders to improve a school instead of losing it to the (Achievement School District), then I believe it is our responsibility to explore the option.”

Hopson’s comments hint at a potentially significant shift for a district that has battled openly with the charter sector over students being absorbed by the state’s 6-year-old turnaround initiative known as the ASD.

They also point to the tough spot that the superintendent is in.

On the one hand, the growth of the city’s charter turnaround sector has been a thorn in the side of local school leaders since 2012 when the state-run district began taking control of low-performing schools and assigning them to charter operators. Now with 29 Memphis schools, the ASD has siphoned off thousands of students and millions of dollars in an already under-enrolled and under-funded school environment — and made mostly anemic academic gains. (The local district also oversees about 50 charter schools that it’s authorized.)

On the other hand, Shelby County Schools has its hands full trying to improve a substantial number of struggling schools. It’s made some important headway through its Innovation Zone, which adds resources, extends the school day, and pays more to top principals and teachers who are willing to do some of the toughest education work in America. But the iZone is an expensive model, and few of its schools have exited the state’s priority school list.

In addition, some education reform advocates are lobbying to shift Memphis to a “portfolio model,” in which districts actively turn over schools to charter operators and manage them more like stocks in a portfolio. In other words, successful ones are expanded and failing ones are closed. Indianapolis has a robust portfolio model and, last fall, the philanthropic group known as the Memphis Education Fund took several Memphis school board members there for a tour. (The Memphis Education Fund receives support from several local philanthropies, including The Pyramid Peak Foundation and the Hyde Foundation. Chalkbeat also receives support from Hyde; read about our funding here.)

In his email to principals, Hopson said the school board ultimately would decide whether to authorize charter schools for the district’s turnaround work, and that he expects to discuss the matter with members in the coming weeks.

“All that said, I want to be very clear that my preference would always be to keep schools under the governance of (Shelby County Schools),” the superintendent added.

Hopson has been in discussions with the state Department of Education about several school improvement avenues available in Tennessee’s education plan under a new federal law. Among them is an option for Shelby County Schools to voluntarily convert priority schools to a charter, according to department spokeswoman Sara Gast.

One school board member told Chalkbeat he needs more information from the district and state before he would support any move forward. Chris Caldwell added that he thinks the board isn’t up to speed on options under the state’s new education plan.

“At this point, there’s so little information that I’ve been given,” Caldwell said. “I don’t want to conjecture what (a charter conversion) would actually will be like, but I have reservations with any kind of collaboration with the state.”

What would it take for such a shift to be successful?

One Memphis charter advocate says the ground rules are already in place because of a charter compact developed in recent years to address turf issues such as facilities, funding, and accountability.

“In order for a charter to manage a district school that’s underperforming and for it to be successful, that charter needs to have supports from the district to be successful,” said Luther Mercer, the Memphis advocacy director for the Tennessee Charter School Center.

The next school board work session is scheduled for Jan. 23.

School and church partnership

Detroit district aims for faith-based partnerships for every school to support student needs

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti surrounded by religious and district leaders wearing new "Got Faith?" shirts.

Each Detroit public school might soon have its own church, synagogue, mosque, temple, chapel, or parish as a partner.

The district on Thursday announced an initiative to connect every district school with a faith-based community partner to help with academic support, student basic needs, and personal and career development, among other services.

The district is now trying to determine which schools have a defined partnership with a religious institution, but estimates that 25 to 30 percent of schools already do. Sharlonda Buckman, senior executive director of family and community engagement, said that the district hopes that, by the end of the year, every one of its 106 schools “has a religious partner working with them in tandem toward the goal of helping our children achieve.”

The program was announced at a press conference at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Midtown, attended by educators, school board members, and invited guests.

“It doesn’t surprise me when I look around the room and see our religious leaders, because you guys, for a long time, have been investing in our children and our people, and it’s been an informal effort,” Buckman said. “You’ve worked with a number of our schools across the district, so today we recognize that we don’t need to do it informally anymore — we need to make this a formal part of how we move this district forward.”

The district is not unique in its approach: church-school partnerships are common across the country and in the state. The national partnering organization Kids Hope USA is based near Holland, Michigan. Supporters believe that stronger faith-school ties will not only improve local support for schools, but also help provide vital services for children and a more stable personal and family foundation upon which learning could take place.

District leaders “cannot lift our children up to their full potential by themselves,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at the press conference. “We need help in that work.”

The district is looking to the faith-based partners to provide services such as tutoring, coaching, chaperoning; deliver before and after school support; donate uniforms and other goods; and highlight teachers at their institutions through announcements and bulletins.

R. Khari Brown, a professor of sociology at Wayne State, said the faith community is already deeply ingrained in Detroit in a variety of ways.

“There are a lot of community centers that closed down over the years in the city, and most churches in the city provide some sort of programming,” he said. “They provide backpacks and school supplies, so [the partnership] makes sense.”

Religion is also a large part of the culture of many African Americans, he said, and a significant force in a district where 81 percent of the students were black in 2016-2017.

“Most African Americans want their churches to be involved on the ills that disproportionately affect black people.” he said.

While other communities might balk at such intermingling of church and state, Brown said he believes that it is a “non issue” in this case because the religious institutions are not receiving money from the district.

The ACLU of Michigan said it had no comment at this time but that the organization hopes to “continue to learn more” about the district’s initiative.

Vitti said a more explicit district-faith community partnership could provide both protection and support for Detroit’s children.

“What I’m talking about is developing a stronger safety net to ensure that what students are not receiving in homes, what students are not receiving in school, can be addressed through the faith-based community,” Vitti said. “When we go back to when the city was at its peak, we worked together as a team to lift children up. When children fell through the cracks, there was a safety net to catch them and lift them back up. That happened through the school system, through the churches, the synagogues.”

Vitti said the initiative is part of his larger effort to align schools and the community more closely. Since starting in his position as superintendent in May of last year, he has been pressing programs like the parent academy.

The academy will provide parents with lessons on subjects like what to ask during parent-teacher conferences, how to create stronger readers, how to fill out FAFSA paperwork, and even how to print a resume. Vitti said most of all, it would empower parents to pursue educational goals for their children, even if they weren’t the best students themselves.

“Every parent knows education is important, but parents don’t know how to navigate the system often, and they feel hypocritical when they push their children when they know they didn’t do well in school,” he said.  

Vitti said he envisions a time when faith-based institutions could house some of the parent services.

He said he also sees the faith community working side by side with the district’s 5,000 role models initiative. The program is recruiting volunteers to work with middle and high school African American and Hispanic students, and plans to have sponsors in each school to work with students daily, taking them on field trips and providing an open line of communication.