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. 

Changing course

After pressure from school board members, University of Memphis middle school drops its academic requirement

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
University of Memphis' elementary, Campus School, is one of the highest achieving schools in the state.

Leaders of a popular elementary school known for its high academic performance are changing the entrance requirements at a proposed middle school in hopes of creating a more diverse student body.

After the Shelby County Schools board raised concerns that the University of Memphis’ plans would continue a pattern of student enrollment from its elementary school, Campus School, that is mostly white, university leaders said last week they would drop the academic requirement for the middle school.

Most Memphis students do not meet state standards for learning. Under the revised proposal, students would need satisfactory behavior records and fewer than 15 unexcused absences, tardies, or early dismissals.

In addition, the school is meant to be a learning lab for teachers earning their degrees. School leaders hope these teachers will eventually return to the Memphis school system to work with children who live in poverty. But currently, the student body doesn’t reflect the population school leaders want to serve.

“We need to make sure that new teachers are getting everything they need. That way you then can learn how to be successful in a diverse community,” board member Miska Clay Bibbs said.

White students made up two-thirds of the elementary school in 2017, the highest percentage in the district. Only 8 percent of the students lived in poverty — the lowest in the district. By comparison, more than half of students in Shelby County Schools live in poverty while only 8 percent are white.

The Memphis district has added more speciality schools in recent years to attract and retain high-achieving students, including white students, who might otherwise choose a private school or schools in the surrounding suburbs. Campus School is one that attracts a lot of white families.

It wasn’t always like that, board member Michelle Robinson McKissack said. She and other board members urged university leaders to do more intentional outreach to the surrounding neighborhood that would have priority in admissions.

“It’s surprising to me that it did seem to be more diverse when I was a child going to Campus in the mid-70s than today,” she said. “And I want to ensure that University Middle looks like Campus looked when I was going to school there.”

Until recently, Campus School was the only school with a contract in the district. Compared to charter schools, contract schools have more say in how they choose students. That allows the University of Memphis to give priority to children of faculty and staff.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
University Middle would be housed in the former St. Anne Catholic School near Highland Street and Spottswood Avenue.

Paul Little and his wife chose their house because of its proximity to Campus School. If the university’s middle school had been open, he would have enrolled his oldest daughter there. He considered other public options, but ultimately decided on an all-girls private school.

“For a long time, I was against private schools in general because if people with high academic achievers pull their kids out of public school, you’ve left a vacuum,” he said.

Little, a White Station High School graduate, disagrees with the assertion that Campus School is not diverse, citing several international students who are children of University of Memphis faculty.

At a recent school meeting, “when I looked out over the cafeteria, I saw a lot of diversity there… That’s never been a concern for me,” he said. He said he was encouraged by the university’s outreach plans “to make the school as diverse as possible.”

Board members are expected to discuss the contract with University of Memphis on Tuesday night, vote the following week, and then open online applications to the school Jan. 30. The school would open in August with sixth-graders with plans to add one grade each year after that.

voices of the vote

Meet Denver teachers who voted yes to a strike, no to a strike — and just aren’t sure

PHOTO: PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Skinner Middle School math teacher Peter English walks out of the Riverside Baptist Church with his son, Landon, left, and daughter Brooke strapped to his chest after voting on whether to go on strike ()

Throughout the day, the parking lot of Riverside Baptist Church filled up as Denver teachers made their way into a meeting organized by their union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.  

Months of negotiations that failed to produce a deal between top leaders of Denver Public Schools and the union had given way to individual teachers facing a choice: To strike or not?

Along with reporting the news of the day — which you can read about here — Chalkbeat spent time visiting with teachers to get a sense of what was shaping their decision-making.

Most teachers we spoke with, both in depth and in passing, said they voted “yes” to strike. Union officials have said two-thirds of those who vote Saturday and in a second session Tuesday must sign off on a strike for it to proceed, and the prevailing wisdom among teachers we interviewed was that support is strong.

The decision, though, is far from black and white for many teachers, regardless of where they ultimately land.

Here are the stories of three teachers, all at different places:

Krista Skuce, Slavens K-8 school: Yes to strike

At the urging of teachers and parents, Slavens K-8 students turned out early on a few recent mornings to show support for their teachers. They wore red in solidarity and posed for pictures.

They also brought questions. “Why are you doing this?” was one.

Krista Skuce, a physical education teacher and 14-year Denver Public Schools employee, would tell students that she lives 40 minutes from the school because she can’t afford to live in Denver.

Krista Skuce

But there is more to her story. Her spouse, she said, is no longer able to work, beset by medical issues, unable to draw disability benefits, and in need of costly care including massage therapy, chiropractic appointments, neuromuscular therapies, and more.  

At the same time, Skuce said her pay “doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.” So she hustles, earning extra pay by driving across town to coach softball and basketball.

Skuce, like many teachers who stopped to talk about their votes on Saturday, believes the district can do more to boost teachers’ base pay — before bonuses and incentives.  

She said her salary has only increased $4,000 or $5,000 in the past 14 years, even though she has been teaching 27 years, has a master’s degree, and is National Board Certified.

Skuce said she knows that by voting to strike, she could very well end up taking money out of her own bank account. Striking teachers don’t get paychecks.

“I am hoping the district and the DCTA do the right thing and recognize the fact that there are some people here who are on the edge,” she said. “We are on the edge emotionally, financially. We know these are good people. And I think teachers are people who wake up every morning with forgiveness.

“You have to take a stand and say what you are for at some point in time in your life — and this is it,” she said. “I’m willing to do it, scary or not.”  

Jason Clymer, John F. Kennedy High School: No to strike

An English teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, Jason Clymer stands with his fellow union members in the belief teachers aren’t paid enough. He finds fault with what is asked of teachers through LEAP, the district’s growth and performance system for teachers.

“Teachers at my school feel extremely micromanaged and can’t catch a breath,” he said.  

But in the end, after being one of the first teachers in the door Saturday and attending an information session, Clymer said he voted against the strike.

“Going on strike is very hard,” said Clymer, whose wife works in human resources for the district’s central office. “And I think the agreement DPS came to was close enough.”

Clymer questioned picking a fight now because of the limited scope of the negotiations. That would be the current agreement governing ProComp, the pay system that provides teachers one-time bonuses for things like teaching in a high-poverty school, getting strong evaluations, having students who earn high test scores, or teaching in a high-performing school.

He said he’d like to save some political leverage to focus on other issues covered by the district’s main contract with the union.

“It’s really unfortunate these things can’t all be negotiated together,” he said. “If the district came out and said, ‘We want to give you more money, not as much as you like, but we want to devote more to things like mental health services,’ I really think that would be a winning argument.”

In opposing a strike, Clymer said that he did not want to divide his fellow teachers.

“Although I voted no, I believe in the union,” he said. “And if the union voted to strike, I will absolutely support the union.”

Paula Zendle, Denver Green School: Undecided about strike

Paula Zendle is dreading the moment that is appearing increasingly likely: standing before her students at the Denver Green School and explaining why she won’t be there to teach them.

“I tell them constantly, ‘Don’t miss school, don’t miss school. Don’t be absent, don’t be absent, don’t be absent,’” said Zendle, her eyes welling up with tears as she waited on a friend. “I have been fighting to avoid a strike. I hate this. It’s utterly and totally agonizing to me.”

Paula Zendle

Zendle said she left a career in the corporate world for the classroom and has been teaching eight years. She teaches English language acquisition and Spanish at the Green School, a popular and highly-rated middle school option in a district that celebrates choice.

 Zendle said she has done her research and written to the district’s chief financial officer. What bothers her is a system she believes rewards younger teachers and underpays teachers in terms of the cost of living.  

The average Denver teacher currently earns about $51,000 in base pay and $57,000 with incentives, according to data from the state education department and the district. That’s less than teachers in districts like Boulder Valley, Cherry Creek, and Littleton.

District officials have agreed to put $20 million more into teacher compensation and defended their most recent offer on Saturday as “compelling.”

For Zendle, the prospect of facing her students — and that she works in a supportive school environment — is contributing to her struggle in deciding whether to vote “yes” to strike.

So if the moment does come, what will she tell her students?

“We have the right to protest unfair taxpayer spending,” she said. “This is not only unfair, it’s unconscionable. Their priorities have been wrong for 10 years.”

Then she paused and made clear that her decision had not been made. She considers herself a person of principle, and that will guide her in making a decision.