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Federal guidelines to close achievement gap not met

Kenneth J. Cooper | 6/6/2012, 2:13 p.m.
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carol R. Johnson and her pen pal, Nelise Mendes, a...

Arroyo also inquired what the department is doing to retain teachers of color once they have been hired. The Black Educators Alliance has cited “disproportionate attrition of black teachers” as part of the problem.

Chan said the department has conducted a survey of new teachers of color to identify their needs and is building “small learning communities” that provide them with specialized professional support.

Her description of recruitment efforts was more extensive than her outline of retention strategies, suggesting the department is focused more on hiring.

Arroyo, Jackson and Yancey made the case that, given the current racial-ethnic composition of the enrollment, the percentage of teachers of color ought to be much higher than the 35 percent the federal court has mandated.

“I don’t know how you’re going to tackle the achievement gap if students don’t see people who look like them in successful roles, who can relate to them in the classroom and understand where they’re coming from,” Arroyo said.

The three councilors did not get an argument from School Department officials.

“We know that there’s a majority right now of middle-aged, white, female teachers like myself, and I think our goal would be to have our faculty reflecting the student demographic characteristics of our district,” said Cynthia Hayes, chief academic officer.

The court order does not set a percentage of teachers who have to be Latinos, who make up the single largest group of students, at more than 40 percent. About 10 percent of teachers are Latino.

Reviewing a report on teacher diversity in each of the system’s 125 schools, Arroyo was dismayed to find that 12 had no Latino teachers and 16 or more had no Asians.

“I can’t fathom why we would have schools that don’t have a single one, a single Latino teacher, in a system that’s 40 percent Latino students,” he said.

The Black Educators Alliance has filed a federal complaint about the shortfall of black teachers and the department’s failure to implement a plan adopted in 2006 to address the achievement gap. The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education is reviewing the complaint.

Johnson said “there are elements we are addressing within the plan,” which has 12 elements, adding, “We’re not where we need to be with the plan, I would say.”

Carroll Blake, department’s executive director on the achievement gap, estimated the plan would be completed by the beginning of the next school year. He said the department is waiting for recommendations from academic superintendents for the various grade levels of schools.