Leaders urge teacher diversity, fewer suspensions of Black kids
State education leaders are calling for greater teacher diversity and decreases in disproportionate rates of Black student suspensions in the Virginia Department of Education’s latest recommendations to address equity.
The department is hosting a symposium this week highlighting educational equity in Virginia. Speakers include Gov. Ralph Northam, first lady PamNortham, and John B. King, who served as secretary of education under President Barack Obama. The symposium lasts until Thursday and is part of EdEquity week declared by Northam.
On Wednesday, King called for greater teacher diversity, an area where Virginia has struggled for years. Across the country, a majority of students who are in public school are students of color, but just 2% of teachers in the country are Black men, and only 18% of the teacher workforce in the country are teachers of color, King said, according to a study at Stanford University.
“Having just one African American teacher in elementary school increases [ students’] likelihood of graduating from high school and going on to college,” King said during the virtual conference. “Despite that evidence, we’ve not done a good enough job of diversifying the teacher workforce.”
According to newly released guidance from the Virginia Department of Education aimed at improving equity in local school divisions — formally known as Virginia’s Roadmap to Equity— 82% of teachers in Virginia are white.
The guidance doesn’t offer measurable goals to reach increased teacher diversity in the state. However, it does offer datadriven guidance to local school systems to diversify their own workforces. Some districts have already taken heed.
In Richmond, 2019’s national teacher of the year, Rodney Robinson, has launched an initiative called RVA Men Teach, which is part of Richmond Public Schools’ strategic plan to recruit male teachers of color.
In the state guidance, the Education Department’s equity office determined that students in Virginia are 13% more likely to attend college if they are exposed to just one African American teacher before the third grade, and 32% more likely if they are exposed to two Black teachers.
“We know that long term outcomes are better, we know that achievement outcomes in the short term are better, and we certainly know that impacts the ability to stay in school due to discipline,” said state Superintendent of Instruction James Lane.
Virginia has drawn scrutiny as one of six states that does not collect teacher diversity data, something that education experts has said can contribute to a lack of teacher diversity and accountability for such.
Education Trust, a think tank run by John King, found Virginia to be in the red zone for teacher diversity accountability for not posting teacher demographics anywhere on its state website.
In its most recent analysis of critical teaching shortage areas, the lack of teachers of color in the state was not listed, but the head of the Education Department’s equity office, Leah Walker, said information like that is soon to come. The state code does not require the department to collect such data.
“Prior to us having an equity VA initiative, diversity in the teacher workforce wasn’t considered the same as ... a shortage of math teachers or shortage of reading specialists,” Walker said. “There’s lots of work to come in the coming years in terms of how we support the field in this work.”
The recommendations for equity also address the disproportionate effects of suspensions on Black students, which are alarming.
According to the Department of Education, Blacks make up just
22% of students in public schools, but account for 52% of suspensions. On Tuesday, during the symposium, Lane broke down the data to reveal that Black students are more than twice as likely to be suspended in 60% of the school districts in Virginia.
In 30% of the districts in the commonwealth, the Education Department found that Black girls are three times more likely to be suspended than their non-Black counterparts.
To combat the challenges of meeting equity, the document offers a number of “equity audit” checklists for districts to follow. TheDepartment of Education isn’t allowed to force districts to comply with the recommendations, since local school boards control how schools operate.