'You Need All Teachers' Schools with Diverse Student Populations Still Struggle to Hire Minority Educators

By Behrman, Elizabeth | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 30, 2018 | Go to article overview

'You Need All Teachers' Schools with Diverse Student Populations Still Struggle to Hire Minority Educators


Behrman, Elizabeth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Anthony Carrington spent every afternoon during the first semester of his senior year in high school working with third-grade students at Beechwood PreK-5 in Beechview.

The 17-year-old captain of the Pittsburgh Brashear football team worked with small groups of students in the school's hallway. On a recent Thursday afternoon, he and five students sat at a small table outside the classroom, reading a short story and writing out summaries in workbooks.

"To have him in this room basically provides us with this reality that we never get," said teacher Tabitha Geramita. Only a dozen of her 25 students are originally from the U.S., but she said the whole class loved the football star who visited them every day.

Anthony is one of 20 12th-grade students enrolled in the Pittsburgh school district's teacher magnet program at Brashear. Students in the program take courses on teaching and classroom management alongside their usual academic courses, and in their senior year they spend a semester teaching actual classes and assisting other teachers throughout the district. This year, all of the seniors who will graduate from the program are African-American.

"No one really told me to be a teacher," said Anthony, who plans to major in math at Youngstown State University.

He ultimately wants a career in sports analytics, but would also like to coach and teach music. Not enough of his teachers, he said, looked like him when he was growing up and he wants to be a role model for other young people.

Of Pittsburgh Public Schools' more than 2,000 teachers in 2017-18, about 85 percent were white and most of them were women, according to district data. By comparison, 53 percent of the student population is black.

As in many school districts across the country, leaders in Pittsburgh Public Schools and other local districts want to hire more teachers that better reflect the diversity of their students. Research shows that teachers of color are beneficial for students of all races, and having a diverse school faculty can have positive effects in areas like student discipline, attendance and graduation rates.

But hiring more teachers of color is challenging even when school districts aren't facing a shortage of teachers in general. Local school districts, colleges and universities are scrambling to find ways to recruit not just teachers of color, but educators who can work as substitutes, math and science teachers, ESL teachers and special education teachers.

"No one has the answer, but we're trying to find strategies," said Sue Rieg, dean's associate for educator preparation in the Indiana University of Pennsylvania's department of professional studies in education.

Statewide disparities

Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based education research group, released a report in April after reviewing Pennsylvania Department of Education data in 2016-17. The data show that only 4 percent of the state's public schoolteachers are teachers of color, compared to 29 percent of students, meaning Pennsylvania has one of the highest disparities between teachers and students of color in the country.

About 96 percent of Allegheny County teachers in 2016-17 were white, data show. Pittsburgh Public Schools had the most diverse teacher workforce of the county's 43 school districts, but only about 13 percent of teachers in PPS were black compared to more than half the student body. About 7 percent of the Wilkinsburg School District's teachers were black, compared to 94 percent of its student population.

Two other districts with large black student populations, Woodland Hills (63 percent) and Gateway (24 percent) both reported about 5 percent of their teachers were black. In Penn Hills, where 63 percent of students are black, the district reported it had no teachers of color.

Eighteen other districts in the county reported that they employed zero teachers of color that year.

Since 1996, the number of undergraduate education majors in Pennsylvania has declined by 55 percent, and the number of newly issued in-state teaching certificates has dropped by 71 percent since 2009-10. …

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