More than 78 percent of the credentialed staff at Cabrillo Unified School District is white. Less than 15 percent of staff is Latino. There are no Black teachers. Meanwhile, only 41 percent of the student body is Caucasian. The majority of students are Latino with a sprinkling of every other color under the sun. It doesn’t take a statistician to know that those numbers don’t add up.
That stark contrast and the inability of local school districts to attract and retain people of color were highlighted in a San Mateo County civil grand jury report released late last week. The report, titled “Building a racially and ethnically diverse teaching workforce: A challenge for our schools,” posits that students of color deserve role models who look like them, and that the student body as a whole would benefit for having educators who come from different backgrounds. There is a raft of research to support that conclusion, but all you really have to do is ask a student who has perhaps never seen anyone like him teaching math or history.
Cabrillo schools are no more or less challenged than others; across the county, more than 70 percent of the students are members of minority groups while more than 70 percent of teachers are white.
The problem persists even as educators acknowledge its existence. To understand why, harken back to the usual underlying problems in the Bay Area. Relatively higher wages for teachers are nonetheless not keeping up with the high cost of living. Talented teachers can make more in other local industries and often leave not because they don’t have a passion for the kids but because they have to make ends meet. Further complicating the issue: California law prohibits affirmative action hiring programs that could address the inequity.
There are some innovative ideas floating around. For instance, Cabrillo leaders are considering hiring a real estate adviser to talk them through building teacher housing on surplus school district property. Just to the north, the Jefferson Union High School District, which includes Pacifica’s two public high schools, is already building affordable housing for its teachers. Others are working with colleges to offer incentives to teachers who might diversify the pool. Some are formalizing mentorship programs so that teachers of color feel appreciated and guided.
The issue almost gained traction nationally with the Teacher Diversity and Retention Act of 2019. However, that failed to get out of the House of Representatives. While it didn’t become law, its conclusions were obvious and important: a diverse teaching profession improves educational outcomes, students of color are more likely to close the achievement gap when they have teachers that look like them, and all students benefit from a diversity of thought.
We don’t yet know precisely how the public health crisis will affect the nation’s teachers. It may be harder than ever before to attract talent to classrooms. Or perhaps there is an opportunity here to fill openings with bright, innovative people who look a lot more like the people they are trying to teach.
— Clay Lambert