Note: To find a district, zoom in and move the map or use the magnifying glass to search by town and include NJ. Switch between types of districts by clicking in the Visible Layers box atop the map and choosing from among K-12, HS and elementary districts. The data is self-reported by districts and subject to errors, most notably in Eatontown and Palisades Park, where total staff figures are under-reported. No data is reported for East Newark and Guttenberg because neither provided staff data to the DOE.
More than three-quarters of public-school districts in New Jersey have teaching and professional staffs that are at least 85 percent white, with about 50 of those districts employing no African-American, Hispanic, Asian or other minorities in those jobs, an analysis of NJ Department of Education data shows.
NJ Spotlight’s examination of the DOE’s certificated staff and enrollment data for the 2017-2018 school year also found a significantly higher staff-to-student ratio for non-whites than for white students and faculty.
The lack of diversity among the state’s educators was the subject of a special joint hearing of the Senate Education and Higher Education Committees last week, with committee members concerned that too many students of color do not get to see teachers and potential role models who look like them.
Numerous studies have shown the benefits of a diverse teaching force, both for students of color and for all pupils. The DOE has set a goal of having the ranks of novice teachers — those teaching for four years or less — reflect the diversity of public school students by 2025.
Based on the current workforce, though, New Jersey has a long way to go.
Roughly 16 percent of New Jersey’s public-school teachers, administrators and professional support staff such as school psychologists, were of some race or ethnicity other than white in 2017-2018, compared with 56 percent of students. Despite New Jersey being a more diverse state than the nation as a whole, New Jersey’s educators are even less diverse than across the United States, which had 18 percent of teachers identifying as non-white in 2015-2016.
Lack of diversity is an ‘urgent problem’
“The lack of diversity in our teacher workforce and our education workforce generally is really an urgent problem,” said Daniel Weisberg, CEO of TNTP, a research, teacher-training and advocacy organization. “If you are a black or Latinx student, there’s a real chance you might go through your entire K-12 career without having even one teacher who matches your background and who has walked in your shoes … Students of color find themselves shortchanged at almost every turn in our education system.”
New Jersey’s educator workforce may be 16 percent non-white on average, but minorities make up an even smaller share of education professionals in close to 80 percent of school districts, including some with student bodies that are majority black, Hispanic and Asian.
The state data shows:
Legislator: Minority candidates are out there
Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, said she does not think school officials are trying hard enough to bring more teachers of color into their districts.
“We have to look at what we need to do to get more minorities into teaching,” said Turner, adding she has talked to officials in districts and colleges about boosting their non-white teaching staffs. “The story is invariably, ‘We can’t find them. They’re just not there.’ But they are there. You just have to go look for them. I don’t know if these districts are doing a good enough job in terms of going out, recruiting and finding minority teachers, because it does make a difference in the classroom, particularly in our urban areas.”
Janet Bamford, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said that boards of education are required to adopt non-discrimination and affirmative-action policies, and to have an affirmative action officer whose job it is to identify and recommend corrective action for any hiring inequities.
“NJSBA believes that districts should do everything in their power to encourage minority representation among the ranks of teachers and staff members,” she said.
“It’s tempting to put the onus for closing this diversity gap on school districts or even individual principals” who hire teachers, said Weisberg of TNTP. But they can only hire from the available pool of teachers and that is “overwhelmingly white, year after year” because whites typically make up three-quarters of the enrollment in teacher-preparation programs in colleges.
Research shows benefits of educator diversity
The data also shows that districts with high minority enrollments, as well as charter schools within these districts, have the highest percentages of teachers who are non-white.
For example, the professional staff in East Orange is about three-quarters minority, with most of those being African-Americans; more than nine of 10 students there are black. Irvington’s staff is more than two-thirds non-white while its student body is nearly all African-American and Hispanic.
The U.S. Department of Education’s 2016 report on the State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce, the most recent such report it has issued, spells out the benefits for students who have teachers of their own race or ethnicity.
“The racial diversity of the teaching workforce can help to close the achievement gap,” the report states. “Both quantitative and qualitative studies find that teachers of color can improve the school experiences of all students; further, teachers of color contribute to improved academic outcomes while serving as strong role models for students.”
It cites studies that showed teachers of color are more likely to have higher expectations for students of color, leading to greater enrollment of non-white students in gifted-and-talented programs. The teachers are also more apt to confront issues of racism, serve as advocates and develop more trusting relationships with students, particularly those with whom they share a cultural background.
DOE is working on the issue
But a diverse workforce doesn’t just help students of color, said Linda Eno, assistant commissioner of academics and performance with the Department of Education, during last Thursday’s hearing.
“Some benefits include preparing all students for a diverse society, building cultural sensitivity, counteracting stereotypes,” she said.
She spelled out a number of steps the state DOE is taking to attract and retain potential teachers among blacks and Hispanics — while still in school, in college and through non-traditional means, such as a troops-to-teachers program.
Weisberg said the lack of teacher diversity “is a problem where we can make significant progress even in the short term,” but more work needs to be done by colleges to recruit non-whites into their teacher prep programs.
“It’s hard for me to believe they are truly making diversity a priority,” he said, adding that colleges need to do more than have “a boutique program” for a few dozen minority teacher candidates.
“We are never going to diversify teaching until we diversify teacher preparation,” he said. “There is a lack of a real commitment across the field in the teacher-preparation space, and especially in higher education … An enormous number of black and Latinx graduates are perfectly qualified. The problem is we are not doing the work to recruit them into the profession, meaning our kids are missing out on being taught by thousands of more outstanding teachers of color every year.”