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Council probes Hub schools' lagging black teacher hires

Dan Devine | 9/2/2009, 5:28 a.m.

The city has also turned attention to retaining minority teachers already in the system. One key issue in that process is licensure.

According to Horwath, 34 percent of new black teachers, and 20 percent of all new teachers, in the BPS system were not brought back for the coming school year because either they had not passed the state-administered Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure (MTEL) exam or they did not receive a waiver of the licensure requirement. About two-thirds of participants in BPS-offered prep classes for the tests are teachers of color.

Nora Toney, president of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, stressed the importance of looking harder at why qualified black teachers leave Boston.

“If we’re losing these new teachers, we need to examine why, and what kind of supports they’d need, especially if they’re effective teachers,” said Toney, principal of the Ellison/Parks Early Education School in Mattapan.

Toward that end, Horwath said, the BPS has begun conducting exit interviews with teachers of color leaving the district. The surveys have revealed some common threads.

“They felt, in many cases, isolated,” he said. “They didn’t have new teachers of color in their schools that they could talk to, relate to.”

Jessica Tang, co-chair of the Massachusetts Asian American Educators Association, echoed that sentiment.

“To be a teacher of color in a lot of these schools can be really alienating,” said Tang, who also took the BPS to task for insufficient focus on inclusion across the board.

“It’s not only about the retention and recruitment of teachers of color — the district has to do more to also increase the amount of cultural diversity within the curriculum,” she said.

The lack of diverse perspectives harms students most of all, said John Mudd, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children.

“The diversity of our teaching staff is a critically important way to bring understanding and valuing of the different cultures of the BPS students, and is an absolutely key component in our efforts to reduce and hopefully eliminate the achievement gap,” he said.

It’s also the key to the system laying Boston’s segregated history to rest, noted Barbara Fields, former head of the district’s Office of Equity.

“To move beyond some of the tragic past that we’ve had, it’s critical for [students] to know that everyone can attain,” she said.