Equity in Education: Teacher diversity

BOSTON — Forty-one percent of all the students in Massachusetts are students of color, but the state is struggling to make sure the teachers in their classrooms reflect that. Ninety-two percent of the teachers in the state are white women.

"We're not serving all of our kids well. When we're looking specifically our students of color, language learners, special education students, students living in poverty,” said Ventura Rodriguez, senior associate commissioner at the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Rodriguez tells Boston 25 News, the data shows representation matters, “Positive impacts on test scores, on student attendance, on engagement."

According to a John Hopkins University study, drop-out rates for black boys decrease 39% if taught by just one black teacher in grades 3 through 5. The study showed those students are also 29% more likely to pursue a 4-year college degree if they've been taught by a black teacher.

Currently, the state has dedicated millions to a grant program and teacher retention initiatives aimed at increasing teacher diversity but some we spoke with asked if enough is being done.

Patriots players Devin and Jason McCourty are pushing lawmakers to approve a $1.1 billion increase in additional education funding.  They say teacher diversity plays a role in that.

"Are they equipped to do their job? Good teachers? Obviously. But I think you might miss out on a good section of kids who just want and need something else from their teachers," Devin McCourty told Boston 25 News reporter Crystal Haynes.

>> MORE: Equity in Education: A closer look at the METCO program

Lawrence is trying to provide that "missing element" for students by training residents to be paraprofessionals.  In the process, the city has tripled its number of Latinx educators.

“These paras mirror what the kids look like. It has a positive impact on students because that para looks like them. That para lives in the community. That para could possibly be their neighbor,” said Marianela De La Cruz with the Lawrence Working Families Initiative.

The Lawrence program also helps paraprofessionals work toward a 4-year teaching degree.

State researchers say lighting that path to college and a teaching degree is key for candidates of color, because they are more likely to be from low-income communities.

"We have a hard time getting candidates of color just to apply for positions and it’s something that’s not just true in Wayland. I think it’s something true in the suburban districts around Boston,” said Wayland assistant superintendent Parry Graham.

A team from Wayland Public Schools is headed to North Carolina to recruit from universities there and explore partnerships with historically black colleges and universities.

“If there are really high-quality candidates of color that are more concentrated in other parts of the country, let’s go there and see if we can attract them to come to New England,” said Graham.

Lasell College is trying to build that pool of candidates here at home. The Newton school has one of only a handful of teacher diversity programs.

Fifty-five percent of their students are from Massachusetts, and the aim is that they stay here and encourage younger students in their community to follow them into teaching through mentorship.

"It shows several things. One, who do you interact in a world that is diverse. So they’re able to see the diversity around their lives. Second is, it shows cultural differences, so it values different ways of approaching problems, approaching successes, approaching education; whether it’s academic or socio-emotional development and it helps them to see that there is a potential for them to be able to do the same one day,” said Claudia Rinaldi Lasell’s Pathways Program.

Teacher retention is also a problem.  A recent study showed the turnover rate for teacher of color was 26% greater than it was for white teachers.

>> More from our Equity in Education series