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School district, BTF recognize the need to increase diversity in teaching ranks

Credit goes to school district officials and the Buffalo Teachers Federation for agreeing to work together to diversify the teaching ranks. That lack of diversity is a problem not only because it leaves children of color without educational role models – which has been shown to exact academic consequences – but because it shortchanges white students who need to learn how to cope in a multicultural world.

Superintendent Kriner Cash discovered that of the 85 new teachers for the district’s 32,000 students, there were only three of African-American, Hispanic or multilingual backgrounds. This in a district where enrollment is 67 percent black and Latino.

The issue of diversity among teachers – and also among administrators inside school buildings – in the urban district is a problem where so many foreign languages are spoken, including Karen, Swahili, Somali, Burmese, Nepali and Arabic. Along with Spanish, they are the languages spoken by 86 percent of the 4,000 to 5,000 English language learners in the district.

Cash is proposing a partnership with Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn as a recruitment source and is calling for a consortium of 21 local colleges and universities to address the district’s needs.

The BTF will revive its decade-old “Grow Your Own” teacher program, which it hopes to launch by the next school year. The plan was put on hold due to numerous changes in leadership over the years. BTF President Philip Rumore sent letters to Cash, who is supportive of the idea, the local delegation of the State Legislature and to SUNY Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner. This cooperation between union and district officials is appropriate. It should happen in other districts where diversity among the teacher ranks is a problem.

The Center for American Progress documented the lack of teacher diversity on a national level and found stark gaps when it came to African-American and Hispanic teachers and students. There are various reasons, including market forces. “Today, people of color have far more job choices than ever before,” according to the center, which also pointed to large racial gaps in high school graduation rates and fewer people of color attending college relative to white students. The center relied on data from the 2012 School and Staffing Survey, a nationally representative survey of teachers and principals administered every four years by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Among its findings, the profession tends to have significant incentives for teachers to stay longer in the profession, which “means that white teachers who entered the profession 20 years ago often stay until they retire.” In Buffalo, this point is exacerbated by the fact that senior teachers do not have to inform administration of their intent to retire until late summer. Not knowing until the last minute how many openings the district will have makes it that much harder to recruit teachers.

Competition for teachers of diverse backgrounds is another consideration. Buffalo’s last teacher contract expired in July 2004 and prospective teachers might understandably view higher-paying suburban positions with up-to-date contract terms as more appealing.

The Buffalo School District and teachers’ union have managed to reach agreement on the need to diversify the teaching ranks, an important first step in solving the problem.

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