Time for action to increase teacher diversity in Mass.
Legislature can boost efforts to bring more teachers of color to classrooms
SHANICE MAXWELL, the 8th grade English language arts teacher at Dearborn STEM Academy in Boston, tells a story of a Black 8th grader who walked into class on the first day of school this year and saw that he had three Black teachers in his classroom – Maxwell, her inclusion co-teacher, and a Boston Teacher Resident. He looked around in shock, slowly walked up to the front of the class, sat in the front row and exclaimed, “I’m so glad to have Black teachers this year.”
Dearborn STEM Academy’s 8th grade teaching team is majority teachers of color, but up to this point in their school career in the Boston Public Schools, most students at Dearborn, where the student body is 60 percent Black and 30 percent Latino, have had mostly white teachers. Their experience is common throughout BPS, where 85 percent of students are Black, Latino or Asian, but only 40 percent of teachers are people of color. Statewide, 43 percent of K-12 students are nonwhite but only 8 percent of teachers are people of color.
It is difficult to articulate all of the benefits that teachers of color bring to diverse classrooms. Significant evidence reveals that students of color who are taught by teachers of color experience stronger outcomes on a number of measures including high school completion and college matriculation and graduation.
The Dearborn is operated by Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE), an education non-profit that also runs Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School. Together these two Boston public schools form a preK-12 STEM pathway in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.
Educators in BPE’s preK-12 pathway and Boston Teacher Residency graduates report that Black and brown teachers make measurable and intangible impacts that are critical to student achievement. Teachers of color bring their lived experiences and knowledge as marginalized peoples, and an understanding of and commitment to the community.
Research shows that teachers of color are more likely than white teachers to hold high expectations for their students, to see and understand their identity and not just react to negative behaviors. Given our nation’s historical and ongoing racial injustices, we need more Black and brown teachers who can guide and support children as they build healthy identities.
Emmanuel Fairley, a BTR graduate and a biracial Black and White 5th grade teacher at Henry Grew Elementary School, says his Black identity influences his decisions as a teacher. This year, he’s running a book club for 4th and 5th grade students and their families. He selects books with characters who share his students’ identities and experiences, and he enjoys making connections and pointing out nuances in group discussions.
Fairley says there are various challenges with the Commonwealth’s credentialing systems, such as the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) exams that inhibit aspiring teachers from reaching the classroom. “A series of questions on the MTEL might focus on pronoun and antecedent agreement, on the basis that a teacher should be able to communicate effectively and efficiently with students and families,” he says. “But an educator who has learned English as a second or third language, a teacher who we desperately need to serve our Haitian or Cape Verdean or Dominican students, might miss these questions. Ironically, they have the tools to communicate with families that other teachers lack, but they are failing the test. These teachers understand families’ hearts and minds, because they come from the same cultural background.”
The recruitment, development, and retention of teachers of color requires dedicated programming and resources. It is work that requires a multi-pronged effort that includes reducing barriers for aspiring educators to enter and remain in the profession, building diverse recruitment pipelines, and supporting teachers of color to mentor and coach aspiring teachers.
Massachusetts is fortunate to have a rich array of nonprofit organizations working to support teachers of color along the educator preparation pipeline. These organizations have come together to support the Educator Diversity Act and to serve as thought partners as we develop policies which will make a measurable impact on our teacher workforce.
The Educator Diversity Act, sponsored by Rep. Alice Peisch, the House chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, includes policies that will enable the preparation, support and retention of teachers of color across Massachusetts. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education seeks to increase the percentage of teachers of color statewide from 8 percent to 25 percent by 2026. In order to reach this ambitious goal, we need to pass the Educator Diversity Act, which would establish alternative pathways to licensure, improve the quality and use of data, and set standards and accountability for diversity, equity, and inclusion plans across districts.
Makeeba McCreary is a member of the board of Boston Plan for Excellence. Jesse Solomon is BPE’s executive director.