Thursday Reading List: Research on Educators of Color and Data on Virtual Schools

Marilyn Rhames is in Education Post with a discussion of the hurdles facing Black teachers in the American education workforce:

According to the [Harvard Educational Review] study, “Black applicants were significantly less likely than their White counterparts to receive a job offer. Further, they find evidence of workforce segregation: when hired, Black teachers were significantly more likely to be placed in schools with large populations of children of color and children in poverty or schools characterized as struggling" ... According to the study, Black teacher candidates in Fairfax County Public Schools were more likely to have advanced degrees, such as a master’s, and almost two more years of school teaching experience than White teacher candidates. Yet, in 2012, Black teachers made up 13 percent of the candidates and got only 6 percent of the jobs, while White candidates accounted for 70 percent of the candidates and got 77 percent of the jobs.

This mismatch manifests in school districts across the country, and the disparity can seem even more acute in schools that serve large numbers of children of color. Rhames shares some anecdotes to animate the data, which will sound familiar to folks who have worked in public schools. 

Elsewhere, in The Hechinger Report, Emmanuel Felton examines the effect of Hurricane Katrina on the community of Black educators in New Orleans:

Pre-Katrina New Orleans schools were a bit of an anomaly. In 2003, just 15 percent of teachers in large urban districts across the country were black but in New Orleans, teaching was largely a job done by black women: 71 percent of teachers were black and 78 percent were women. The demographics of the city’s teacher workforce have changed drastically since: in 2014, black teachers comprised a little less than half of the city’s teacher corps. In the years following Katrina, New Orleans became a mecca for new teachers. Before Katrina, the city’s teachers had an average of 15 years of classroom experience. Now the majority of teachers have less than five years of experience ... While the black community was hit harder by the firings because so many teachers were African American, the researchers did not find a racial disparity in who was rehired after the storm. In fact they found that black teachers were slightly more likely to return to New Orleans schools than their white peers. 

There's no easy way to talk about this data. Local activists have been raising this issue for years, during which time many reform leaders either dismissed or downplayed the importance of the shift. Given the emerging mountain of evidence that students of color are more likely to thrive in classrooms led by educators of color, leaders in New Orleans and beyond should think of this as an academic achievement issue, in addition to a political one.

Some educators in Philadelphia are taking a proactive approach to cultivating diversity and inclusion among teachers. Sharif El-Mekki describes that work in Philly's 7th Ward:

Seventeen Black men who were leading classrooms and schools in Philadelphia launched The Fellowship-Black Male Educators for Social Justice. Our initial goal was hardly to create a formal organization. We came together over a monthly dinner at a Black-owned restaurant in west Philly to problem-solve and celebrate wins, to collaborate, and to support each other. We met to ensure our students’ success. And, to facilitate our own learning ... Today, we are proud to be gearing up for our 7th BMEC (Black Male Educators Convening). Despite the name, these convenings are not solely for Black men—although our focus is. Our convenings (and membership to The Fellowship) are open to anyone who is committed to the idea of diversity in our classroom and school leaders. We welcome all who want to engage in problem-solving to rectify decades-long issues that negatively impact our children.

El-Mekki himself is the leader of a charter school, although the network includes leaders from traditional district schools as well. There's a lot to like about this project. Most importantly, The Fellowship addresses a legitimate issue that has vexed education leaders in other cities. In addition, this network is a model for how teachers can collaborate across district and charter models, which is rare in places where significant political tension exists across sectors.

Finally today, Matt Barnum is in Chalkbeat examining the kind of virtual schools that excite United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos:

In addition to advocating for school vouchers, DeVos has also long backed virtual schools, a small but swiftly growing sector of schools. For-profit virtual school companies are tightly connected to [DeVos family backed American Federation of Children, or AFC]. The two largest such groups, K12 and Connections Academy, were among the chief sponsors of the conference ... John Kirtley of AFC praised the company, saying, “They’re doing great things in digital learning.” And although the research evidence for blended or personalized learning models is mixed, the handful of studies of fully virtual schools point to a clearer verdict: students in such schools perform dramatically worse on standardized tests relative to similar students in traditional schools, according to a study of thousands of virtual charter school students in 18 states.

Barnum also has been dogged in documenting the dismal results attached to voucher programs. I love innovation, I support personalization, and I embrace change where change is necessary. The evidence, however, demonstrates that DeVos's top educational priorities are often worse for students than the status quo. There is no reason to support such initiatives, and perhaps more importantly, her continued advocacy of dubious ideas creates enormous credibility problems for anything she - or her administration - embraces. Sad.

Have a good day!