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Educators place onus on Long Island school boards to improve staff diversity

Aggressive recruiting and mentoring is needed to bring staff diversity into school districts and expand students' experiences in an increasingly multicultural world, educators say.

Hofstra University professor Alan Singer said, on the

Hofstra University professor Alan Singer said, on the topic of hiring minority teachers: "There are districts that will give people interviews so they say they gave interviews, but the hiring committees are looking for people they are comfortable with." Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Local educators said the relative absence of minority teachers in Long Island public schools will continue until school boards adopt programs with features that have worked elsewhere, such as financial incentives and mentorship to encourage minority students to enter the profession, and recruitment drives that result in hiring.

More than three in five schools on Long Island did not have an African-American teacher in 2016-17, according to a Hofstra University report on teacher diversity released Friday. More than two in five schools had no Latino teachers, even as Latino student enrollments jumped from 14.5 percent in 2006 to 26 percent in 2016-17, according to the report.

This comes during an era nationally in which there has been an emphasis on recruitment and retention of minority teachers.

“There are districts that will give people interviews so they can say they gave interviews, but the hiring committees are looking for people they are comfortable with,” said Alan Singer, a Hofstra professor of teaching, learning and technology who was not involved in the report. “So if you’re black or Latino, it’s harder to get in.”

Daniel A. Domenech, a veteran administrator who formerly served as program director for Nassau BOCES and superintendent of the Deer Park and South Huntington school districts, said several factors could contribute to the paucity of African-American and Latino teachers on the Island. He now is executive director of the 14,000-member American Association of School Administrators, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Alexandria, Virginia.

Domenech said unconscious bias may be discouraging Long Island school officials from aggressively pursuing minority teacher candidates. Aggressive recruiting is needed to bring staff diversity into school districts that lack it, and if white children are to learn to thrive in an increasingly multicultural world, he said.

“Do [districts] have a strategy to actively go out and recruit minority candidates, or are they only going to hire the teacher in front of them?” said Domenech, who also served three years as chief executive officer of Western Suffolk BOCES in the 1990s. “Because you’re going to have a smaller number of minority teachers and a higher number of white teachers.”

In the past 30 years, the number of minority teachers nationwide has increased by 150 percent, far faster than the 52 percent growth in white teachers, and more rapidly than the 127 percent increase in the nation’s minority students, according to Richard Ingersoll, a University of Pennsylvania professor of education and sociology who studies teacher diversity.

Despite the growing availability of minority teacher candidates, relatively few are hired in high-wealth areas, including the bulk of Long Island’s school districts, Ingersoll said. Nationally, nearly two-thirds of minority teachers are employed by school districts with high poverty rates. Only 11 percent are employed by low-poverty districts, like ones on the Island, Ingersoll said.

“The big gains in the number of minority teachers have been in large, low-income urban districts,” Ingersoll said. “What hasn’t been successful is there has been little gain in affluent suburban districts. So the gains haven’t been even.”

Fred Greenspan, who for 25 years produced the annual Minority Careers in Education Exposition in New York City, said he stopped hosting the fair in 2012, in part, because he could no longer persuade Long Island districts to send recruiters.

By 2007, he said, only five Long Island districts — none with white student majorities — sent recruiters to that year’s expo, which was held in downtown Brooklyn.

In contrast, suburban districts in Westchester County and Connecticut routinely hired black teachers at the job fair, said Greenspan, a former Massapequa Park resident who said he moved his business to Phoenix in frustration.

Though the pace of hiring has been slow, there are pockets of progress in some districts, education experts said.

“Some things have changed,” Singer said, referring to black Hofstra education graduates now working as principals or assistant principals in districts including Sewanhaka, Lindenhurst, Valley Stream Central and East Rockaway. “But no, it is not a level playing field."

Resistance remains, said Anne M. Mungai, interim dean of Adelphi University’s College of Education and Health Sciences, which attracts recruiters from about 20 area school districts to its twice-annual Career Day jobs fair.

She said although 70 percent of Adelphi’s education graduate students are white, Long Island’s majority white districts typically show less interest in recruiting Adelphi’s nonwhite teacher candidates.

“It’s really a disadvantage for some very good minority teachers,” Mungai said. “What you see in the schools is what you see in society. People don’t like change.”

There are some success stories. Since the inception of the NYC Teaching Fellows program in 2000, for example, more than 9,000 fellows — two of three of them people of color — have been placed in classrooms in the city, according to the New York City Department of Education.

DJanna Hill, a professor at William Paterson University in New Jersey, said a pilot program there targeted high school students from economically distressed Paterson, New Jersey, with cultural enrichment activities and four-year college scholarships. In exchange, participants promised to teach in the district once they completed education degrees.

Of 56 high school students who participated in the program, 13 went on to teach in Paterson, Hill said.

“We found that teachers who are from the community are in a greater position to change the conditions of that community, rather than people from outside,” she said.

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