In the Excel Academy Charter Schools of East Boston and Chelsea, 88% of the 1,389 students identify as people of color, while 46% of staff do. With new funding and dedicated support to increase educator diversity within their ranks, school administrators representing both Excel Academy Charter Schools hope to shift those numbers significantly.
“Over the last five years, and particularly over the last three, Excel Academy Charter Schools has been committed to ensuring the composition of our staff better reflects the diversity of our students,” says Alejandra Gil, Excel Academy Charter Schools Director of Talent. “We believe representation matters. We want our students to see themselves reflected in the community of adults supporting them to grow and discover their best selves so that when they leave our halls, they can successfully navigate all of the post-secondary options available to them.” Excel Academy Charter schools is a network of four schools serving students in grades 5 to 12 in East Boston and Chelsea Massachusetts. Plans are in place for them to expand to Rhode Island. “
Excel Academy Charter Schools is among eight academic communities that were selected to take part in the new “Driving Toward Diversity in the Educator Workforce” program to examine how they can better attract and retain more diverse teachers to match growing diverse student bodies. Other grantees selected for the eight-month program are school systems in Winooski, VT; Portland, ME; Stamford, CT, and several in Massachusetts including Salem, Fitchburg, Lowell, and the Teach Western Mass network of schools in Springfield and Holyoke as well as Boston Prep Charter School.
To build that pipeline of teachers of color while retaining those who are already in the workforce, the Barr Foundation offered support through TNTP (The New Teacher Project) and offered grants of up to $25,000 to help the selected districts analyze current talent systems, practices, and system needs while also taking input from students, teachers, school leaders, families, and the broader community through June 2022.
“Diversifying the workforce has been a goal and priority for educators and families for decades,” said Leah Hamilton, Director of Education for the Barr Foundation. “Why aren’t we making more progress? We are eager to learn from TNTP and local school systems to understand the unique local challenges and what can make a difference. We will work with school districts across New England to analyze the problem and find more solutions that they can put into place. We hope this will help move the needle toward more action, more change, and better results for both students and teachers.”
Education research finds that students of color who learn from teachers of color are more likely to complete high school, go onto college, face fewer suspensions and disciplinary action, and be referred to gifted and talented programs, according to education research that points to the importance of having a diverse workforce that identifies with its students.
But, in too many states and school districts educators don’t reflect the racial makeup of the students they serve. About 53 percent of students in the U.S. identify as people of color while 80 percent of teachers are white and 40 percent of public school districts do not have a single teacher of color, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. New England wrestles with the same imbalances in its schools.
“We have over 20 years of experience working with school districts and educators to close achievement gaps, improve classroom instruction, and develop talented, diverse teaching staffs,” said Arlene Sukran, Vice President of Northeast TNTP. “We hope this new effort will go a long way in making much-needed improvements for both students and teachers. It’s exciting to be part of the solution.”
According to TNTP’s The Opportunity Myth: What Students Can Show Us About How School is Letting Them Down – and How to Fix It report, high expectations of teachers of color can be a game changer for students of color. “In classrooms where students were mostly Black or Latinx, 66 percent of teachers who were the same race or ethnicity as the majority of their students had high expectations compared to just 35 percent for teachers who were a different race or ethnicity,” the report says. Those higher expectations correlated to more learning for their students as well.
The problem is complex. Teacher certification processes pose barriers. Implicit bias in recruiting, hiring, and managing can interfere. College and university programs preparing teachers lack diversity in their student bodies and have a range of outcomes in supporting their students of color to succeed in the licensure process. School cultures fail to support teachers of color to build long-term careers in the profession.
A bill pending in the Massachusetts legislature, the Educator Diversity Act, aims to address the issue by attracting more diverse professionals by offering new alternative teaching certifications, better data collection by the state for diverse educators, requiring districts to appoint diversity officers or teams, and establishing educator diversity councils.
For the “Driving Toward Diversity in the Educator Workforce” work, grantees will take part in planning sessions with TNTP to do a talent landscape analysis, collecting data to understand how the school system is attracting diverse teachers and its recruiting and retention process. Grantees will gain an understanding of their current strengths and opportunities for focus, and TNTP will offer recommendations.