William Langhorne

Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80 met with community members in Bridgeport on March 26 to discuss a new legislative proposal that seeks to bring more teachers of color to Connecticut public schools through mortgage assistance and student loan forgiveness.

According to Lamont’s bill, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority will create a program that seeks to attract teachers who graduated from historically black or Hispanic-serving colleges or universities, among other groups. The bill also orders the commissioner of education to enter into reciprocity agreements with Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York and New Jersey, aiming to make it easier for teachers to apply for jobs across state lines.

“My bill was designed to continue the important conversation on recruiting more teachers of color,” Lamont said, according to a March 26 press release. “This is a direct investment in the classroom and in student success. All students should have access to positive teaching and learning experiences so they can be prepared for the global workforce that awaits them.”

While students of color make up almost half of the public school population in Connecticut, only 8.7% of teachers identify as nonwhite. On a national level, racial diversity among teachers has hardly budged in the past few decades. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education, 87% of public school teachers in the 1987–88 school year were white, compared with 82% in the 2011–12 school year.

Narrowing the gap between teacher and student diversity rates can significantly impact the performance of students of color, according to a 2017 report by the Institute of Labor Economics. For example, in one study cited by the report, black primary school students who were randomly assigned to black teachers scored higher on standardized testing. In a longer-term study, black students with black teachers were less likely to drop out of school and more likely to plan for college.

In the press release, Lamont’s team also cited the academic improvements associated with diverse teachers.

“The research shows that children of color perform at their peak when they have teachers of color,” said state Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, in the press release. She is a co-chair of the state’s Minority Teacher Recruitment Task Force. “However, they are not the only ones that benefit. A diverse teacher workforce advances all students.”

While children of color might achieve more in a classroom with a teacher of color, teacher diversity also reduces the rate of disciplinary infractions in which students of color are involved. According to a 2017 report by the Center for American Progress, African American teachers are less likely to perceive a same-race students’ behavior as disorderly, which can in turn lead to lower suspension and/or expulsion rates for those students. In an interview with the News, Shannon Marimón SOM ’10, the executive director of the Connecticut Council of Education Reform, said that in the longer term, recruiting more teachers of color can have a “systemic benefit.”

The issue of disproportionate punishment rates for students of color has also concerned administrators closer to home. A New Haven Board of Education meeting in February brought local statistics into the public eye. According to a presentation by district research supervisor Michele Sherban, while black and Latino students account for 36% and 46% of the 2018–19 New Haven Public Schools population, respectively, those same students make up 60% and 32% of school suspensions.

According to New Haven Board of Education President Darnell Goldson, the board has worked on initiatives in the past to bring more teachers of color to the district — but the Board’s current financial straits have interfered with its efforts.

“We’ve worked closely with the NAACP and the state chairman to develop some strategies for bringing black and brown teachers into the system,” Goldson said to the News. While the board previously hired recruiters and hosted brainstorming sessions, Goldson added, its human resources department has been “completely drained.”

As of Monday, the board currently faces a $5.3 million deficit for the current fiscal year.

According to Marimón, Lamont’s initiative includes just a few of the number of effective methods designed to bring more teachers of color into the field. While mortgage assistance and student loan forgiveness make the list, Marimón told the News that starting efforts earlier can aid in keeping people of color in “the pipeline” toward the educational profession, by framing the field as a realistic option.

“If we’re working with the current active class of soon-to-be graduating seniors from high school, it’s about going back to exposure, recruitment, making this a viable pathway for individuals,” Marimón told the News.

Marimón also mentioned other incentives, including a new “teacher village” in Hartford that brings together educators in a cohesive housing community. Programs like Relay Graduate School of Education, which came to Connecticut in 2016, also work to close the diversity gap as they deliberately search out candidates of color.

Relay also partners with local school districts, who can then tap Relay students and hire them directly after graduation. According to Marimón, this system helps to tackle teacher unemployment, though other issues like teacher retention remain prevalent in the field.

“We understand more work needs to be done,” said Sarah Barzee, chief talent officer for the Connecticut State Department of Education, according to the March press release. “We are happy the governor is making this a priority.”

If approved by the assembly, Lamont’s bill would take effect July 1, 2019.

Valerie Pavilonis | valeria.pavilonis@yale.edu .