PPS selected by Barr Foundation to expand educator diversity in the district

Barr Foundation, TNTP (The New Teacher Project) offer funding, support to help schools address large diversity gap between students, staff

In the Portland Maine public schools, 49 percent of the 6,534 students identify as people of color, while about 11 percent of staff do. With new funding and dedicated support to increase educator diversity within their ranks, school administrators hope to shift those numbers significantly.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to take a more data-informed look at our current state, how we got here and the best next steps for continuing to accelerate our diversity staffing work,” says Barbara Stoddard, the Executive Director of Human Resources for the Portland Public Schools. “The research is clear that all students benefit from staff who look like them. Responding to this call to action is critical to the success of our BIPOC students and is critical to the retention and engagement of our BIPOC staff.”

Portland Public Schools is one of eight educational communities that were selected to take part in the new “Driving Toward Diversity in the Educator Workforce” program to examine how they can better attract and retain more diverse teachers to match growing diverse student bodies. Other grantees selected for the eight-month program are school systems in Stamford, CT, Winooski, VT, and several in Massachusetts including Salem, Fitchburg, Lowell, Western Massachusetts, along with a charter school in Boston and the Excel Academy Charter Schools in East Boston and Chelsea which are expanding to Rhode Island.

To build that pipeline of teachers of color while retaining those who are already in the workforce, the Barr Foundation offered support through TNTP (The New Teacher Project) and grants of up to $25,000 to help the selected districts analyze current talent systems, practices, and system needs while also taking input from students, teachers, school leaders, families, and the broader community through June 2022.

“Diversifying the workforce has been a goal and priority for educators and families for decades,” said Leah Hamilton, Director of Education for the Barr Foundation. “Why aren’t we making more progress? We are eager to learn from the partnership with TNTP and local school systems to understand the unique local challenges and what can make a difference. We will work with school districts across New England to analyze the problem and find more solutions that they can put into place. We hope this will help move the needle toward more action, more change, and better results for both students and teachers.”

Education research finds that students of color who learn from teachers of color are more likely to complete high school, go onto college, face fewer suspensions and disciplinary action, and be referred to gifted and talented programs, according to education research that points to the importance of having a diverse workforce that identifies with its students.

But, in too many states and school districts educators don’t reflect the racial makeup of the students they serve. About 53 percent of students in the U.S. identify as people of color while 80 percent of teachers are white and 40 percent of public school districts do not have a single teacher of color, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. New England wrestles with the same imbalances in its schools.

“We have over 20 years of experience working with school districts and educators to close achievement gaps, improve classroom instruction, and develop talented, diverse teaching staffs,” said Arlene Sukran, Vice President of Northeast TNTP. “We hope this new effort will go a long way in making much-needed improvements for both students and teachers. It’s exciting to be part of the solution.”

According to TNTP’s The Opportunity Myth: What Students Can Show Us About How School is Letting Them Down – and How to Fix It report, high expectations of teachers of color can be a game changer for students of color. “In classrooms where students were mostly Black or Latinx, 66 percent of teachers who were the same race or ethnicity as the majority of their students had high expectations compared to just 35 percent for teachers who were a different race or ethnicity,” the report says. Those higher expectations correlated to more learning for their students as well.

The problem is complex. Teacher certification processes pose barriers. Implicit bias in recruiting, hiring, and managing can interfere. College and university programs preparing teachers lack diversity in their student bodies and have a range of outcomes in supporting their students of color to succeed in the licensure process. School cultures fail to support teachers of color to build long-term careers in the profession.

For the “Driving Toward Diversity in the Educator Workforce” work, grantees will take part in planning sessions with TNTP to do a talent landscape analysis, collecting data to understand how the school system is attracting diverse teachers and its recruiting and retention process. Grantees will gain an understanding of their current strengths and opportunities for focus, and TNTP will offer recommendations.