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Study: teachers of color critical to education’s future in NY

Max Schulte/WXXI News
Brittany Rumph gives first-grader T'Aires Cheek a visual reminder that his next virtual class begins in 10 minutes.

Teachers of color are vital to more positive outcomes for students, but there are too few in New York state.

That’s according to an analysis by Education Trust New York which released a report called “Representation Matters” on Monday.

The disparity in racial and ethnic representation between teachers and students has remained stagnant for the past four years across the state. White educators continue to account for nearly 80% of teacher positions.

Data from the Education Trust shows that while Latinx youth make up about 30% of the state’s student population, only 8% of teachers are Latinx. That’s the greatest divide identified in the report. Black youth account for just over 15% of students in the state, but less than 10% of teachers in classrooms are Black.

“There are many schools across the state, and as well as here in Monroe County, where our students are not seeing, (or) having any exposure to teachers of color,” said Jeff Smink, Deputy Director at Education Trust - New York. “And that's a problem in a diverse society, and a diverse county that we live in. It has negative implications for all of us.”

At the Rochester City School District, Smink said it’s no different. While more than half of students enrolled in the district are Black, only 12% of teachers are Black. In suburban districts around Monroe County, 98% of teachers are white compared to 70% of the student body.

The report released on Monday states that the benefits of having a teacher of color lead a classroom include reduced suspension and dropout rates for students of color, and an increased likelihood that Black students are identified as gifted.

“New York is one of the most diverse states in the nation and we must make sure that is reflected in our educators,” Jacqueline Martell, state director of Education Reform Now New York said in a statement. “Ensuring teacher and school leadership diversity not only benefits students of color, but all students.”

The Education Trust is advocating for state lawmakers to allocate American Rescue Plan Act funding as well as state education funds to do that, and to increase diverse teacher recruitment in the next legislative session.

Recruitment, hiring, and professional development are all possible solutions that need to be invested in, in order to increase representation in classroom leadership across the state, Smink said.

“There's benefits to the students and even, you know, for all students, there's the benefit of just preparing them to live in a multicultural society, which we're not getting,” he said.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.