Diversifying the MCPS Teaching Staff

Written by: Elena Silva

The Montgomery County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) recently released a report that showed a “demographic mismatch” between the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) students and teachers. According to the report, which compared the race and ethnicity of students to faculty, the county’s teaching staff is disproportionately white relative to its student body. The MCPS student body is 33 percent white, 27 percent Latino, 21 percent Black, and 14 percent Asian, while the MCPS teaching staff is 76 percent white, 5 percent Latino, 13 percent Black and 5 percent Asian.

This “mismatch” is not unique to MCPS. A recent state-by-state analysis of student-teacher demographics by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that there is a significant “diversity gap” between teachers and students in every state in the nation. Using a “parity index” similar to the one used in the OLO report, the study calculated how close each state was to a demographic match (zero equaling a perfect teacher-student match and 100 equaling a perfect mismatch). California had the biggest mismatch, with an index of 44, but Maryland wasn’t far behind with an index of 40.

Using the CAP index, which subtracted the percentage of teachers of color from the percentage of students of color, MCPS would be a 43. Notably, the states that are furthest from parity are also among the most racially diverse (e.g. California), compared to racially homogeneous Vermont, which had the smallest mismatch with an index of 4.  States like California and Maryland, and districts like MCPS, have Latino, African-American, Asian-American and other student populations that are fast out-pacing the relatively static and disproportionately white teacher populations, and a lot of work to do to balance out the teacher-student demographics. The parity index used by OLO is different in its calculation and level of detail (by subgroup, for example), but offered the same conclusion:  the teaching staff does not reflect the great diversity of its students and the county should do more to diversify its teaching ranks.

Waiting for the teaching staff to “catch up” to the students is not the answer. While racial/ethnic diversity in teaching has increased over the last couple decades, according to a recent analysis of federal School and Staffing Survey data, this increase pales in comparison to the explosive growth of student diversity. In fact, the CAP study found that the diversity gap had grown worse since 2011. Unfortunately, the recent OLO study doesn’t show any trend data to see how the MCPS teaching population has changed over time. Curious, I decided to look at some rough numbers from my own alma mater, Springbrook high school, to see how things might have changed in twenty five years. Back in 1989, roughly 55 percent of Blue Devils were white, 30 percent African American, 9 percent Asian and 6 percent Latino. Today, the demographics have shifted but it remains an incredibly diverse mix of students, with 42 percent African American, 34 percent Latino, 12 percent Asian and 9 percent white. In terms of race and ethnicity, the student body is more of a melting pot than it was twenty-five years ago. This is heartening to know, since I believe that the experience of going to a school like Springbrook forced me and my peers to confront, understand and value racial, ethnic and cultural diversity more than most.

Interestingly, I attribute this experience to the diversity of the students, not the faculty, which is far more diverse now than it was in 1989. Then, Springbrook’s faculty was only about 5 percent “non-white” (a handful of African American, Hispanic and Asian-American teachers). Today, the number of non-white teachers has jumped to 40 percent. Still, in terms of parity, Springbrook doesn’t look good, given that 90+ percent of its students are not white.

Superintendent Starr has said he plans to aggressively tackle the issue of staff diversity but it’s not yet clear how that will happen. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Diversify for need’s sake, not diversity’s sake. We tend to include everything under the tent of diversity, which makes defining and executing a clear recruitment and development strategy nearly impossible. The goal is not merely to balance the racial and ethnic make-up of the student and staff populations (step into an MCPS school and you’ll see how impossible this would even be). It’s to diversify the staff so we can better address the needs of MCPS students. So, do we want more African American teachers to benefit the large number of African American students who are disproportionately struggling academically? Should this recruitment goal target certain areas (the MCPS study included a helpful breakdown by MCPS clusters)? Specifically, do we want more African American male teachers, since African American boys in particular are over-represented in discipline counts and in placement for special education? (Gender, notably, was not part of the OLO study but is a huge consideration given that teaching is becoming more, not less, female-dominated). Relatedly, Dr. Starr has said he wants to recruit for “cultural competency” and not necessarily race and ethnicity. “Cultural competence” is more difficult to measure but, unlike race or ethnicity, it is also a skill set that can be gained over time (e.g., knowledge of different cultures and customs, the ability to effectively teach students from a variety of cultures). While we may want it all—a well-prepared teaching staff that is culturally competent, balanced by race/ethnicity and gender and whatever else—it is careless and presumptuous to tackle this as one issue. Some of the best bilingual teachers are white and native English speakers, and there are plenty of Latino and Asian and African-Americans who only speak English and are not “culturally competent” just because of their race/ethnicity.

 

  1. Prioritize language skills. One important but unmet goal of the OLO study was to explore gaps in linguistic diversity between staff and students. Lacking data on staff language skills, the study wasn’t able to conclude much on this. But improving the language skills of MCPS teaching staff should be among the most important goals of the system, especially given the rapidly increasing non-English speaking immigrant communities in MCPS. Collecting and tracking data on staff language skills and recruiting for bilingual and multi-lingual teachers are goals that would be widely supported not only by non-English speaking communities but also by the English-speaking population, which continues to actively lobby for more language immersion school options in the county. Partnerships like those that MCPS has recently formed with institutions like the dual-language Ana G. Mendez University System would ostensibly bring many more bilingual teachers into the system. The linguistic diversity of Montgomery County is a strength, and building on this should be a priority.

 

  1. Grow our own. Another long-term strategy for MCPS, and perhaps its best, is to develop our own student-to-teacher pipeline. If MCPS can clarify what skills and characteristics it really needs, its graduates should be able to return to its classrooms as teachers. This would require the availability of more high-quality teacher education programs in the state, which is not within the district’s control (but is certainly something MCPS and the broader community can and should push for). But there’s no doubt that a stronger pipeline can be built, and beyond a few partnerships or a scholarship here and there. Why not build a teacher residency program like its neighbors PG and DC, and others across the nation? Or consider the model of Educators Rising, a spin-off of Future Teachers of America that is starting with high school classes (Intro to Teaching) aimed at engaging and training young students for teaching careers. Given that more than 60 percent of teachers in the nation teach within twenty miles of where they went to high school, this seems like a good bet for MCPS. We have the population for a strong pipeline of high-quality teachers that reflect the demographics of the county. We just need to cultivate it.

 

 

One Response to Diversifying the MCPS Teaching Staff

  1. Joseph Hawkins says:

    Very nice piece by Elena.

    It does, however, still seem fair to ask, “Has MCPS made sufficient progress in hiring more teachers of color?” Here are the numbers over nearly 30 years.

    1985
    http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/boe/meetings/minutes/1985/minutes.092385.pdf
    “Dr. Cody reported that the last area in the report was the employment situation in MCPS. He said that student enrollment by race was 9.4 percent Asian, 15 percent black, 5.7 percent Hispanic, and 70 percent white. However, the teaching force was 0.8 percent Asian, 9.5 percent black, and 1.1 percent Hispanic.”

    2014
    http://mocoedblog.org/
    “The MCPS student body is 33 percent white, 27 percent Latino, 21 percent Black, and 14 percent Asian, while the MCPS teaching staff is 76 percent white, 5 percent Latino, 13 percent Black and 5 percent Asian.”

    Joe Hawkins

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