Boston Schools Face Litigition over Lack of Black Teachers

A decline in the number of black teachers in Boston public schools has put the city in violation of a federal court order, prompting officials to step up efforts to recruit and retain teachers of color.

For the first time in years, school officials are launching an aggressive marketing campaign that includes posting advertisements on the T, in national education publications, and on a new website that will go online soon. They plan to tap alumni networks of current employees who graduated from historically black colleges or other campuses with diverse student populations.

Superintendent John McDonough says the school district's goal is to establish a workforce that reflects the student population. This is also a legal requirement.

The school district has a population that is 87% black, Latino or Asian, but a mostly white teaching force. Federal Judge Arthur Garrity enacted a law decades ago that required 25% of the district's workforce to be made up of blacks and 10% other minorities; the city's three exam schools were mandated to maintain the minimum levels. The initial ruling led the schools to hire enough to be in compliance, but the percentage of black teachers has dropped to 21% district-wide in recent years, putting the system out of compliance and in danger of further litigation.

Two exam schools, Bostin Latin School and Boston Latin Academy, have dropped to 16 and 13%. The third exam school, John D. O'Bryant, is bucking the trend with 38% of their teachers being black. The school district is in compliance in regards to the other racial and ethnic minority law.

School officials say the reason behind the percentage of black teachers is unknown, noting that new hiring is not keeping pace with retiring teachers. Advocates for the recruitment say it is long overdue.

Boston Public School music teacher and president of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts John McDonough says that by boosting recruitment "it will help to bring the percentages up over time. . . . It's essential for the district to have a diverse staff." To help bring the number of black teachers back up, McDonough says the school system's chief equity officer will begin reviewing and approving principals' new hires.

Educators and civil rights advocates believe that having a workforce representing the student population gives teachers the opportunity to connect with students and keep them engaged in their learning.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said the school department ignored the issue too long.

"Central office has not provided consistent direction to principals that hiring ought to be more reflective of the student body," Stutman said. "Given the tremendous amount of vacancies and a workforce that turns over 10 percent a year, there has been ample opportunity to diversify the teaching force."

The Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, who pushed for the minimum staffing requirements, does not wish to see the issue get as far as legal action. Her preference is to work with the school system and help them find solutions for the issue. The school committee seemed pleased after hearing a presentation on the workforce diversity effort.


01 21, 2014
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