teachers of color

How diverse is the teaching force in your district? A new analysis highlights the gap between students and teachers of color

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Maria Siskar vividly remembers when she was in 8th grade the grade she now teaches at Girls Prep Bronx Middle School.

She had just moved from Venezuela to Florida, but didn’t have immigration papers and couldn’t speak English. Today, many of her students can relate to her story when she tells it to them especially those who are undocumented immigrants themselves. Will my parents be able to stay in the country? some ask her. Will I be able to attend college?

“My own role of being Latina, it has helped me make more of a connection with my girls,” Siskar said. “They see me as one of them.”

Siskar’s bond with her students is backed by research: While students of color can develop deep ties with any teacher, there is evidence that having a teacher who resembles them can help improve their test scores, provide them a role model, and raise expectations of what they can accomplish.

Yet in New York City, as in districts across the country, there is a glaring disconnect between many students’ race or ethnicity and their teachers’: While 83 percent of New York City students are Asian, black or Latino, only 39 percent of teachers are, according to 2015-16 state data compiled by Education Trust-New York, an advocacy group that tries to improve outcomes for students of color. (Education Trust and Chalkbeat both receive funding from the Gates Foundation.)

“We know from powerful national research the importance of an educator workforce that is highly skilled, well-prepared, and diverse,” said Ian Rosenblum, the group’s executive director.

Below are five big takeaways from the data, along with a searchable database of student and teacher demographics in each of the city’s 32 community districts and every borough. 

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

1.) The biggest gap is between Latino students and teachers.

As the share of Latino and Asian students in New York City has climbed in recent decades, the number of teachers from those groups has not kept up.

According to the analysis, 41 percent of city students are Latino while only 15 of teachers are a 26 percentage-point gap. By contrast, the black student-teacher gap is 9 points and the Asian gap is 10 points.

This phenomenon holds across all five boroughs. In Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, the share of Latino students is more than double that of teachers; in Queens and Staten Island, there are three times more Latino students than teachers.


2.) A striking number of schools have no Asian, black, or Latino teachers.

If teachers of color are underrepresented across the school system, certain groups are not represented at all at scores of schools.

A full 88 schools (6 percent) have no Latino teachers, 144 schools (9 percent) lack a single black teacher, and 327 schools (21 percent) have zero Asian teachers on staff.

3.) White students miss out on educator diversity too   

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

White students are especially likely to learn in schools without any non-white teachers further isolating students who may already have limited exposure to students of different races.

Five percent of white students attend schools without any Latino teachers, 19 percent have no black teachers, and 16 percent have no Asian teachers.

Without teacher diversity, white students like their non-white peers may be ill-equipped to enter increasingly diverse workplaces, said Rosenblum of EdTrust-NY.

“It’s important that all students see people of color in positions of authority,” he said. “Especially if you think about the fact that there are so many highly segregated schools where students may not interact with many peers of other races or ethnicities.”  

4.) Charter schools have a higher share of teachers of color, but a larger gap student-teacher gap.

For charter schools, there’s good and bad news.

On the plus side, charter schools have a slightly higher percentage of non-white teachers (43%) than district schools (39%).

However, because charter schools overall serve a higher share of students of color, the gap between their teaching force and students is larger: 94 percent of charter school students are Asian, black or Latino, while just 43 percent of their teachers are non-white — a 51 percentage-point gap.

5.) Some districts have many Asian students but few Asian teachers.

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

Along with Latinos, Asians are one of the city’s fastest-growing student groups. While the share of black and white students has declined since 1990, the share of Asian students has doubled, to 16 percent.

Yet as with Latinos the teaching force does not reflect this change. Today, Asians make up a large share of students in parts of the city, yet they see few teachers who look like them.

Take two districts in Queens: District 25 in North Queens and District 26 located on the edge of Nassau County. While about half the students in each district are Asian, only 11 percent of teachers are. Similar disparities exist in other areas of the city, like in Brooklyn’s District 20.

Use the tool below to find the percentage of students and teachers in your district and borough broken down by race/ethnicity. You can also see the citywide rates, and the rates for district and charter schools. 

call for more

Almost half of Detroit district schools don’t have a gym teacher. Next year, that may change.

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Since 10-year-old Hezekiah Haynesworth moved to his new school in the Detroit district, he’s always up out of his seat, talking to classmates and getting into trouble.

His mother, Victoria, says he wasn’t always like this. She believes he has nowhere to burn off excess energy because Bagley Elementary doesn’t offer students enough time for gym class or recess.

Bagley Elementary is one of 49 schools in the district without a gym teacher. Out of the 106 schools in the district, only 57 have at least one certified, full-time physical education teacher, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat.

The district employs 68 certified full-time physical education teachers for its student population of 50,875. More than 15,000 Detroit schoolchildren attend a school without a full time physical education teacher.

In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified, which means some kids, like Hezekiah, might only go once a month or less.

“He’s had behavior issues, but if he had the gym time there’s different activities he would do to burn off energy,” she said. “They would get that anxiety and fidgetiness out of them.”

Haynesworth might get her wish. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced earlier this month that there’s money in the budget to put gym teachers back in schools, along with art and music teachers and guidance counselors next school year, though the budget plan has not yet been approved.

“Not every student is provided an opportunity for physical education or gym” right now, Vitti said at a meeting earlier this month.

The district has almost 200 teacher vacancies, and giving schools money for a gym teacher doesn’t mean a school will be able to hire one.

But Vitti said he has several efforts in the works, like more recruiting trips and better hiring practices, to address the difficulties of finding and bringing in new employees.

Detroit is not the only district that has cut back on physical education teachers in recent years. At a time when schools are heavily judged by how well students perform on math and reading exams, some schools have focused their resources on core subjects, cutting back on the arts and gym and cutting recess to make more time for instruction and test prep. But experts say that approach is short-sighted.

Research on the importance of physical activity in schools has reached a consensus — physical education improves children’s focus and makes them better students.

“Available evidence suggests that mathematics and reading are the academic topics that are most influenced by physical activity,” according to a 2013 federal report.

The link between physical education and improved reading is especially important for the Detroit district. Educators are working in high gear, in part pushed by Vitti, to prepare for the state’s tough new law that will go into effect in 2020, requiring third-graders who don’t read at grade level to be held back.

This year, the Michigan Department of Education has started to include data on physical education in schools into its school scoring system, which allows parents to compare schools. A separate score for physical education might push schools to hire physical education teachers.

Whether the state’s new emphasis on gym class or Vitti’s proposal to place a gym teacher in each district school is enough to put physical activity back in the schools is unclear, but Hezekiah’s mom Victoria desperately hopes it happens.

Hezekiah is given 45 minutes to each lunch, and if he finishes early, he’s allowed to run with the other children who finished early. If he doesn’t eat quickly enough to play, Victoria says she can expect a call about his disruptive behavior.

“I used to think that my son was just a problem — that it was just my problem,” she said. “But it’s a system problem. They don’t have the components they should have in the school.”

See which schools have gym teachers below.

Out of the game

The businessman who went to bat for apprenticeships is out of Colorado’s governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Noel Ginsburg, an advocate for apprenticeships and a critic of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, has withdrawn from the Democratic race for governor.

Ginsburg, a businessman who had never run for office before, always faced a tough road to the nomination. He announced Tuesday that he would not continue with the petition-gathering or assembly process after his last place finish in the caucus, where he got 2 percent of the vote.

In an interview with The Denver Post, Ginsburg said, “I don’t believe I have the resources to be fully competitive.”

Just last month, Ginsburg released an education platform that called for the repeal of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, the signature legislative achievement of former state Sen. Mike Johnston, also a candidate for governor.

Ginsburg runs CareerWise, an apprenticeship initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper that allows students to earn money and college credit while getting on-the-job experience starting in high school. His platform called for expanding apprenticeship programs and getting businesses more involved in education.

He also promised to lead a statewide effort to change the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow the state to retain more revenue and send much of it to schools. He said that schools, not roads, should be the top priority of Colorado’s next governor.

Ginsburg will continue at the head of CareerWise, as well as Intertech Plastics, the company he founded.

Johnston, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne have all turned in signatures to place their names on the ballot. Former Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the endorsement of two teachers unions, is not gathering signatures and will need at least 30 percent of the vote at the assembly to appear on the ballot. Kennedy finished in first place at the caucus earlier this month.