By: Shaunna Harrington, Ph.D.
Associate Teaching Professor, Northeastern University @shaunna3830
Last week, I attended (on zoom) the kick-off campaign to support the passage of the Massachusetts Educator Diversity Act. This act will direct and support the work of making our teacher workforce more racially diverse. Currently, about 43% of students in Massachusetts K12 public schools identify as people of color, yet only 8% of our teachers are people of color. Carlos Santiago, the Commissioner of Higher Education for Massachusetts, shared another alarming statistic during the kick-off event – 25% of Black students in Massachusetts attend a school without a single Black teacher.
The teacher racial diversity gap in our Commonwealth is harming our students.
Research demonstrates that students of color have greater success in school when they have teachers of color. Teachers of color are more likely to be seen as positive role models, maintain high expectations, use culturally responsive teaching practices, develop trusting relationships with students, and advocate for racial equity. White students also benefit from having teachers of color.
We need to recruit more people of color to become teachers in Massachusetts by removing barriers that exclude them from entering the profession. We also need to do a much better job retaining teachers of color. Teachers of color leave the profession at higher rates than white teachers. Many teachers of color report that they do not feel welcomed, valued, and supported by their schools or districts.
White educators, who comprise 92% of Massachusetts teachers and superintendents, have a critical role to play in retaining teachers of color. We who are white educators need to actively challenge white cultural norms that downplay the power and the pervasiveness of racism. We need to name and reject racist practices, challenge superficial expressions of diversity and inclusion, and be the antiracist allies our colleagues of color deserve.
The Massachusetts Educator Diversity Act would develop a more equitable pathway to teacher license by creating an alternative to MTEL. It also would establish a Center for Strategic Initiatives in DESE to set guidelines for diversity; require all districts to hire a diversity officer who would work to make progress on educator diversity in the district; and establish educator diversity data dashboards, which would keep track of progress (or lack of progress) in diversifying the teaching force in Massachusetts.
State Senator Jason Lewis, co-sponsor of the bill along with State Representative Alice Peisch, made clear at last week’s kick-off event that the bill was a “high priority” in the state legislature this year, explaining that it is “part of antiracist and racial justice work.”
If you want to be help diversify the Massachusetts teaching profession, you can write your state legislators and urge them to support the Educator Diversity bill, or thank them if they already are supporting it. You also can sign this petition to publicly show your support for the Act. And if you are in a Massachusetts school, you can convene a group of stakeholders to examine the racial diversity of your teachers, and begin the work of addressing how to recruit and also retain more teachers of color.