‘Diversity is strength’: City Hall rally on MLK Day seeks a more equal teaching corps in New York

Photo by Alejandra O’Connell

On a day celebrating civil rights champion Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., education advocates rallied at City Hall Monday urging the city and state to make addressing the lack of diversity among public school teachers a priority.

“Right now the city is having conversations about segregation and how to desegregate our schools but some of us are having this conversation without having our educators front and center,” said Paula White, executive director of the nonprofit Educators for Excellence-New York on Jan. 20. “Educator are the lifeblood of our schools…in order for us to integrate our schools we must integrate our teaching force as well.”

In November, the state Board of Regents released a report that found 200 districts in the state did not employ any teachers of color. The finalized report, released in December, found that although the number of teachers of color employed in state increased between 2011 and 2017 80 precent of teachers are still white while 50 percent of K-12 classrooms being made up of students of color.

“A diverse staff is a strong staff that can better serve all of our students,” White said.

Members of Educators for Excellence gather outside of City Hall on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 to demand for more teacher diversity. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

Members of the education nonprofit, founded by former teachers, gathered a day before Governor Andrew Cuomo’s scheduled state budget address to highlight one way to address the disparity. They want Cuomo to increase funding to the state’s Teacher Opportunity Corps (TOC) programs, which serves to help minority teaching students.

“Many of us have excelled despite a lack of diversity, not because of diversity,” said White. “But we can create new stories and it’s these new narratives that we seek to author with the teachers that will occupy classrooms.”

Studies have show that the presence of teachers of color in schools increasing students of color test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment rates, according to Learning Policy Institute.

Earlier this month, the Board of Regents released recommendations on how to improve teacher diversity, with one of them being for the state to add $3 million in its TOC II funding.

Not only do students of color do better academically if there are more teachers or color, but it helps fellow teachers of color, rallygoes said.

Sixth grade science teacher Leton Hall said he loves his profession, but the fact that he is the only black male teacher at his school creates a sense of isolation. The regents December report highlighted a disparity among teacher retention as well.

According to the report, about 22 percent of Black teachers did not return to the classroom following the 2017-18 school year. Schools failed to retain only 13 percent of White instructors during that year.

The Board of Regents also proposed  $2.5 million in state funds for the creation of “birth to grade 3” teacher preparation programs and teacher leader preparation advanced certificate programs for “birth to grade 12” teachers from underrepresented groups, $ 2 million for a pilot “Grow Your Own” program to up the number of special education teachers at some private schools and $ 1.2 million in state funds to increase fee-waiver vouchers for teacher certification exams.

The governor’s office has not responded to a request for comment.

This story first appeared on amny.com

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