Saturday, December 19, 2020

Pennsylvania's Teacher Problem

 We already know that the teaching profession is primarily composed of white women (average age 43). But sometimes, when you break data down in particular ways, it becomes even more striking.

Research for Action is a Philly-based group that has done some great work over the years, and they've done some research about the TOC/SOC balance in PA that are featured both in this article from Sojourner Ahebee and a "supplemental" Twitter thread (and you can read the research here).

Some of the PA data is just striking. First, PA is an outlier when it comes to the gap between students and teachers of color. Nationally, the share of SOC is 2.5 times the share of TOC, but in PA the SOC share is 6 times greater (only NE, NH and Indiana have a bigger gap). I'm not totally shocked and surprised by that; PA suffers from a fairly severe urban vs. rural divide, and the rural parts of the state are pretty white. 

But when RFA starts breaking down by districts, it gets even starker. There are 500 school districts in PA (which is its own problem) and 184 of those districts employ zero teachers of color. Only about twenty-five districts in the entire state have staffs that are more than 5% TOC. Here's a map from Research for Action, breaking it down district by district:

There are roughly 3,200 schools in Pennsylvania; RFA found that 1,500 of them have all-white teaching staffs. A dozen schools across the state in 2019-2020 were 80% students of color and had no teachers of color at all. And there are other schools that come close to that; Ahebee's piece looks at William Penn School District, where 4% of the students are white and 80% of the teachers are. 

The shifts have occurred over time, both in the increase of SOC and the decrease of TOC. And in some rural districts the staff is mostly or all white, but so is the student body. But we are now in a problematic place.

I know that this subject is a touchy one for some white teachers, that the initial reaction is to bristle and argue that white teachers are perfectly capable of teaching students of color. But at this point the research is overwhelming--the presence of Black teachers in a school produces better results for Black students. With a Black teacher, Black students are more likely to go to college, less likely to suffer exclusionary discipline, more likely to be placed in gifted classes. The list goes on. And it's important for the white students in a school to encounter Black teachers as well. Ahebee hints at one other reason that Black teachers can be effective for Black students--in many settings, those teachers are the ones who actually live in the community that the school serves. Every student is best served by teachers from within and from outside her community. The student needs someone who gets the local flavor, and someone who can show her what lies outside familiar boundaries. All voices have their place within the school, and a diversity of voices best serves the students. 

We are at a difficult point at the moment, with the teacher supply already problematic. In my corner of PA, colleges have been compressing and even eliminating teacher programs because they don't have the enrollment. Add pandemic messes and we are in a place where the entire teacher corps needs to be rebuilt. That's a tough challenge, but it's also an opportunity to rebuild a teacher corps that is not so white. 

How is it done? RFA reports that PA has actually grown, slightly, its share of male TOC by 129, which is better than nothing. The guru of teacher workforce studies, Richard Ingersoll, has told us for years that retention is a huge part of the problem, especially for TOC, so part of the challenge is not just to recruit folks, but to keep them around. 

There are folks working on the issue. The PA department of education has a program to address the drain of teacher talent and the lack of TOC in the state. And the Center for Black Educator Development ("We address educational inequities to improve academic and social outcomes for all students through increased diversity") is one organization working on the issue. Teach for America, after its launch as a platform for primarily white temp teachers, has made equity more of a priority, but students need to see someone who stays, not someone who's just passing through for a couple of years. Per RFA dats, charters in Philly are doing better than public schools, but you know I don't think that's the answer (even if we ignore all the other charter issues, sheer scale rules them out). It will take state initiatives, organizations like CBED, and deliberate, mindful decisions by the people who do hiring at each of those 500 districts.

I don't see or hear anyone in all of this saying that white teachers can't teach students of color, or, for that matter, that women can't teach young men. But there is something fundamentally missing in any education system where a child can spend twelve years and never see an adult person like themself. Pennsylvania is in the weeds on this. 

Read Ahebee's article, which delivers a nuanced and close-up look at how the issue plays out for students and teachers. Read RFA's study, which has layers and layers of data to unpack. There is plenty here for Pennsylvania's education leaders to think about and act upon. 

1 comment:

  1. How about a major effort to reach out to high school seniors? It's obvious and already a thing but apparently not happening enough. Athletes get recruited. Why not future teachers?