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Massachusetts Schools Seek To Close Student-Teacher Diversity Gap


   There is a diversity gap in the public schools in Massachusetts. As the student population in the state has grown more diverse over the last several years, the state’s teaching corps has remained predominately white.   Some school districts are trying to close the gap.

      Minorities made up 37 percent of the student enrollment in the state’s public schools last year, while just 7.1 percent of the teaching staff was non-white, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

      The gap exists in nearly all the state’s public school districts, has grown over the last decades, and is especially large in districts where a majority of the general population is non-white including Holyoke and Springfield.

      Eighty-eight percent of Springfield’s public school students are non-white, while 29 percent of the faculty and staff are.   Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick said it is a “huge challenge” to recruit minority teachers.

    "If you look at the pool of minority candidates nationally that pursue education as a college major it is just not there," he said.

     Research has shown that when students have teachers who come from the same racial and cultural background as they do, they perform better academically, have fewer absences, and are less likely to drop out.

    Minorities have not entered the teaching profession in the same numbers as white people, according to Cheryl Stanley, Dean of Education at Westfield State University.

   "I think it is incumbent upon school districts and institutions that offer teacher preparation programs to market in a different way and talk about the rewarding experience of teaching," she said.

   Less than 15 percent of the students in Westfield State’s teacher preparedness programs are minorities.

   In addition to lower enrollment to begin with, the drop-out rate from undergraduate and graduate education programs is higher for minorities than whites. College debt is higher among minorities than whites.

  The Springfield Public Schools and Westfield State have partnered in a program that recruits Springfield high school graduates of color to enroll in the university’s education program.

  Warwick said the partnership focuses on areas where minority teachers are particularly in short-supply including math, the sciences, and special education.

  " For us to bring back kids who graduated from high school in Springfield  and reflect the diversity of the city,to teach here is a win-win," said Warwick.

  The initiative called “Reach to Teach” offers eligible students financial assistance and a guaranteed job in the Springfield schools.  The participants must commit to teach in Springfield for at least three years.

  Stanley said there are 11 minority students currently in the pipeline to become Springfield Public School teachers.

Superintendents around Massachusetts are taking various steps to try to increase teacher diversity in their districts, according to the Boston Globe.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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