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Study spotlights lack of teacher diversity on LI

Teachers of color made up 8 percent of the workforce in the region's public schools in 2017, while nearly 45 percent of students were nonwhite, with enrollment growth in those of Latino and Asian heritage.

Brandy Scott, president of the Long Island Black Educators Association, spoke to Newsday on Wednesday about the importance of bringing more minority teachers into public schools.  (Credit: Barry Sloan)

Hiring of black and Latino schoolteachers in Long Island's public schools failed to keep pace with a decadelong surge in minority enrollments, leaving thousands of students without role models of their own race or ethnicity and limiting opportunities for teachers of color, Hofstra University researchers conclude in a study.

The lack of minority teachers shortchanged whites as well as students of color, because all the youths were left with a narrower range of cultural and social experiences, the report says.

Nonwhite students accounted for nearly 45 percent of public school enrollment in Nassau and Suffolk counties in 2017, driven by growth in those of Latino and Asian heritage, according to the analysis. In contrast, minorities comprised an estimated 8 percent of the region's teacher workforce — about half the state and national averages.

The study, "Teacher Diversity in Long Island's Public Schools," reviewed student and faculty records gathered by the state Education Department from all of the region's 642 public school buildings for the 10 years ending with the 2016-17 academic year.

It is the second major report issued within the past 18 months on demographic mismatches between students and staffs in New York public schools. The Education Trust-New York, a Manhattan-based advocacy group, looked at the situation across the state, declaring in its October 2017 study that workforces generally do "not come close to representing the rich diversity of the state's students." 

The new 42-page analysis by the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University was written by William Mangino, chairman of the Department of Sociology, and Lawrence Levy, the center's executive dean. Funded by a $100,000 foundation grant from an anonymous donor, the research was done in a year and a half.

This is the first of at least three phases of investigation into disparities in minority hiring in the Island's public schools, the researchers say.

The next focus is school policies and practices on recruitment and retention of teachers of color. The third phase will aim to bring together education leaders with the goal of recommending changes in local policies, possible legislative measures and sources of revenue for reducing the disparity in the hiring of minority teachers, according to the report.

Key findings so far include:

  • Student demographics in the Nassau-Suffolk region shifted dramatically over the past decade. Latino enrollments jumped from 14.5 percent of the total in 2006 to 26 percent in 2017. Students of Asian heritage grew from 5.5 percent to 8 percent. Meanwhile, blacks decreased from 11 percent to 8.5 percent, and whites dropped from 69 percent to 55 percent. 
  • Teacher demographics remained relatively stable during the same period. The share of white teachers dipped one percentage point — to 92 percent. The percentage of black teachers declined from 3.4 percent to 2.9 percent. The Latino workforce rose from 2.8 percent to 4.2 percent.
  • More than 60 percent of the region's public schools, 390 of 642, did not have an African-American teacher, according to statistics from the 2016-17 year, the most recent available to the researchers. More than 40 percent of schools, 273 in all, did not have any Latino teachers. 
  • Put another way, more than 212,000 students of all races and ethnicities never saw a black instructor in their schools. Nearly 130,000 students never had a Latino teacher in their buildings.

A total of about 437,000 students are in the Island's 124 public school districts.

"The findings demand a search for solutions that will create a more diverse teaching workforce on Long Island," said Dafny J. Irizarry, president of the Long Island Latino Teachers Association, who assisted Hofstra's team in contacting minority faculty.

Support also was provided by Brandy Scott, president of the Long Island Black Educators Association and a former assistant school superintendent in North Babylon. 

Irizarry, who teaches English as a Second Language in the Central Islip district, added that shortages of minority teachers are a complex problem requiring comprehensive remedies. Irizarry emphasized that she spoke for the Latino association, not the district.

"If we don't do anything, and we don't start now, the diversity gap will increase," she said.

Mangino and Levy wrote that the lack of change in the teacher workforce does not reflect the diversity and dynamism of the metropolitan area. The study notes that 36 percent of Long Island's general population is nonwhite, citing U.S. Census Bureau county population estimates released in July 2017.

"Exposure to diversity makes people smarter. This is not just hyperbole," the report says. "Because diversity brings different viewpoints, understandings and cultural frames, people who are exposed to diversity blend these various ideas, and in the process innovation flourishes; indeed this is why great cities like New York are sites of prodigious creativity, the finest art, and home to corporate and cultural innovations."

The researchers point out that Long Island has a history of racial inequities, among them the racial covenants that initially banned home sales to blacks in certain subdivisions built in the 1950s. 

"Today, we are still living with the legacy of these practices and the attitudes that drove them: Long Island remains among the most segregated areas in the country," the report states. 

"Teacher Diversity" cites more than 130 other research projects in advancing its argument that a wider variety of educators is likely to inspire and stimulate more students. A referenced 2017 study, for example, looked at test scores of thousands of North Carolina students as they moved from the third through 12th grades, concluding that contact with at least one black teacher in grades three through five increased the likelihood that black students from low-income families would aspire to attend four-year colleges. 

Across New York State and Long Island, growing numbers of educators have acknowledged the need to diversify instructional staffs.

The state Board of Regents, which sets education policy, has overseen a multipronged effort. For example, one component of the "My Brother's Keeper" program, established by the state in 2016 with a $3 million budget, is to expand the supply of minority instructors, especially in schools with recurrent shortages. 

Last fall, New York State United Teachers, a statewide union umbrella group based in Albany, announced the launch of a series of "Take a Look at Teaching" meetings on college campuses and at other locations, aimed at encouraging more students to consider classroom careers. One focus is recruiting minority candidates, union representatives said. 

"As a new generation considers whether to join the teaching workforce, it is imperative that we look for new ways to tackle barriers to diversity," Jolene DiBrango, the union's executive vice president, said in a prepared statement.

On the Island, Julie Lutz, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, noted that the regional agency recently revived a series of career fairs specifically designed to help schools hire teacher candidates from diverse backgrounds. Meanwhile, a number of local districts have gone outside the region to recruit in urban areas where workforces have diversified, rather than simply advertising job openings in the traditional way. 

"Instead of just posting, we're reaching out," Lutz said in an interview with Newsday.

In the Plainview-Old Bethpage district, math teacher Aaron Kirk Marsh, who is black, said he has noticed efforts by SUNY and CUNY campuses to attract more minorities into teacher-training programs. Marsh, now in his fifth year of teaching advanced high school classes, said his district arranged for him to spend six weeks at Michigan State University sharpening his instructional skills under a federal program designed to draw more minority students into high-tech careers. 

"I've been afforded a lot of opportunities," Marsh said in a Newsday interview. He acknowledged that the new report's findings seem "a little alarming." 

Marsh said one thing that attracted him to Plainview-Old Bethpage was that its superintendent, Lorna Lewis, is black. The 4,800-student district's enrollment was 73 percent white, 19 percent Asian, 6 percent Latino and 1 percent multiracial in 2016-17, according to the Education Department. 

"Teacher Diversity" includes findings based on interviews with about three dozen black and Latino education professionals. They were promised anonymity, as is common in research studies. Many of those interviewed said they encountered extra pressures on the job simply because they are people of color. 

Latino teachers working in heavily white districts, in particular, said they often were called upon to act as advocates for Latino students and parents in ways that white teachers were not pressed to advocate for white students and parents, the researchers said. 

Black and Latino educators alike told the researchers that it was doubly difficult to diversify teaching staffs in districts where there were few minority employees who could recommend job candidates of the same background.

Scott, who is executive director of the nonprofit Community Learning Academy in Central Islip, said the state bears a responsibility "to require school boards to do everything possible not just to hire more African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, but to create a culturally inclusive school environment." 

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