According to a study from Hofstra University that was published in March 2019, results found that although the number of minority students is increasing on Long Island, the amount of minority teachers is at a halt.
From 1990 to 2013, the Black, Hispanic, Asian non Hispanic and other non-caucasian populations have increased while the white population has decreased. Meanwhile, the study states that about 394 school districts out of the 642 public school districts on Long Island lack a single Black teacher. In addition, about 276 schools lack a single Hispanic teacher.
People see this as a problem because the statistics show lack of diversity in schools in addition to Long Island failing to cater to the growing minority population. There is legislation in place, like the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws which prevents a workplace from discriminating against hiring someone. However, some feel that some schools do not necessarily follow this or just merely assume that discriminatoin isn’t taking place.
“I don’t think the general public is even so aware of what these laws truly mean, and how it’s important that we all are aware of the necessary nature of equal employment opportunity,” said Bill Moss, the director of academic affairs at Lawrence High School. “And the same is true for education. Hiring across the board in the government is down and it definitely shows up in public schools because of local control.”
Moss is also the president of the Islip Town National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) branch and a former middle school math teacher of the Brentwood school district. He is also in the process of completing a case study about Brentwood school districts in regards to lack of diversity of teachers which was inspired by the anecdotes of Black teachers expressing concerns about their lack of opportunity.
Moss believes that Black teachers depend on connections to get jobs and without them, they have a limited chance of being hired.
“You have all these white folks who do have all these connections and that’s the method by which people get their jobs,” said Moss. “Well, then that method itself is a discriminatory method. Even though we may not have a title on it that says, Blacks need not apply. The nature of the method is that Blacks need not apply.”
He also feels the problem stems from many schools hiring from within.
“Statistically, if 99% of the people who are already in the system are white, and you say we’re hiring from within, for these next 20 jobs as teachers, so if I can predict what the race of the people are going to be they are going to be white,” said Moss. “That to me constitutes as discrimination.”
A similar scenario occurs within the Hispanic teacher population. The Long Island Latino Teacher Association (LILTA) assisted in organizing the focus groups of the study, especially when it came to the Latino ones. They were eager to help out because they knew the lack of minority teachers is an issue, but wanted data to prove it.
“We just had observations of an everyday experience with our years of educators where we felt that the presence of educators of color, was not really proportionate to the number of students of color,” said Dafny Irizary, the president of LILTA. “So Hofstra decided to do the study and the numbers were not surprising, because we had the feeling that this was going on. However, they were disappointing and disturbing.”
Irizary claims that a few years before in the Education Trust Report of October 2017, the number of Black and Latino educators in N.Y. state was 16% while the Black and Latino population was 43%. LILTA also believes the numbers are not getting better because of data represented in studies like from Hofstra. Irizary also points out how for Latino teachers, they tend to be hired more than Black teachers, for example, because they are bilingual.
“We do have a lot of bilingual students who mandate school districts to provide students with bilingual teachers,” said Irizary. “You’re more likely to hire a Latino teacher, because the chances that a Latino teacher is bilingual is high.”
LILTA also wants to investigate further if schools on Long Island are just hiring Latino teachers because they are bilingual, or are actually having them teach subjects other than language.
Some teachers of local unions, like the Farmingdale Federation of Teachers, also participated in panels from the Hofstra study. Unlike LILTA, the union came to the same realization rather than have a preconceived assumption from the study about the lack of minority teachers and shortage of teachers in general. Because of this realization, they feel schools need to take action to address the results of the study.
“One of the priorities for school districts should be to prioritize anti-racist and bias training for district employees and in some form for students and community members as well,” wrote the union in an email. “It needs to be a district philosophy and not just in words.”
The union also claims that some of their retired members are speaking up to schools about the lack of representation in schools in Farmingdale.
“Every district needs to be intentional in seeking to have qualified people of color interview, do demo lessons and move on in their processes,” wrote the union in an email.
Elmont High School Special Education Living Environment Teacher, Colleen Brown, who is a Black resident of Baldwin, feels a solution can be schools improving their recruitment methods to find teachers of color.
“I feel like a lot of teachers, they may apply, but because they were applying to be on the island, it gets very competitive and minority teachers get phased out,” said Brown. “I think they [schools] need to do a better job in terms of the students that we’re teaching right now, to make teaching more of an attractive field, so that you have a group of kids that are present right now, as in high school and going to college, who believe education is a major they could pursue as well.”
Before teaching at Elmont, Brown claims that she was one of 10 Black teachers at the school within a total of 150 teachers. Compared to then, she sees more of an initiative for schools becoming more diverse, but it is gradual. Brown also agrees with Moss about how hiring within is a problem, but it also depends on the administration of a school.
“Every time you change administration and a few people that are in charge of hiring, and you have different initiatives that are run out, things are done a little bit differently,” said Brown. “When you hire certain administrators or some people that earn positions of power to hire, they see that there is a need and that initiative will be put into place.”
For Elmont High School, Brown is a part of the Cultural Proficiency Team, where she runs professional development meetings with teachers to make them understand that the student population is changing. She makes sure that teachers understand different students’ backgrounds and are becoming more culturally aware. LILTA also has annual conferences to recruit high school students of color to become educators and offers scholarships to those pursuing education in college.