Even as the number of non-White students and residents on Long Island has surged over the past decade, the hiring of Black, Latinx and Asian teachers has failed to keep pace, leaving minority and White students alike with few, if any, diverse role models that an increasing body of research has identified as important for their success. For example, 61 percent of Long Island’s 642 public school buildings do not have a single Black teacher and 43 percent have no Latinx.
Research by The National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University (NCSS) has found that 179, or about 28 percent of Long Island’s public school buildings, do not have one non-White teacher. That means some 80,000 students will never see a Black, Latinx or Asian teacher in any of their classrooms.
The study has identified 378 buildings, about 60 percent of Long Island’s total, that have fewer than 5 percent minority teachers. The situation is even more extreme when considering only Black or Latinx educators: Two-hundred-twenty-three (35%) Long Island schools do not have a single teacher of either heritage.
Forty-nine percent of all students on Long Island – 212,000 children – attend schools where they never see a Black teacher; similarly, 30% – 129,000 students – attend schools without a single teacher of Latinx origin.
Put another way, the ratio of White students to White teachers is 7 to 1, compared to an average for all students of 12 to 1. The ratio for Latinxs is 75 to 1, for Asians 67 to 1, and for Blacks 48 to 1. Even in the 10 percent of schools that are virtually all students of color, two thirds of the teachers are White.
As of 2017, non-Whites accounted for nearly 45 percent of Long Island’s public school students and 36 percent of the general population, but only 8 percent of its teachers; this is about half the state and national percentages—figures that speak to a lack of career opportunity for minorities as well as diverse role models for all students. Twenty six percent of students are Latinx, up from 14 percent in 2006, compared to 4 percent of teachers. Similar disparities exist for Blacks and Asians. Only Latinxs have seen a gain in the percentage of their overall teacher corps, but it was slight—and supplemental interviews with educators suggest that a substantial number of the new Latinx teachers were hired only to serve non-English speakers in mandated programs.
In addition to ground-breaking building-by-building data, the NCSS report presents an extensive review of scholarly literature that shows the myriad of benefits that can come to students when they are exposed to a group of diverse teachers. While all students profit from this diversity, there are important gains specifically for students of color that will do much to improve opportunity and give all students the foundation they need to be upwardly mobile and successful.
Particularly noteworthy is a study by Gershenson et al (2017), who show that when a Black male student has even a single Black teacher in third, fourth, or fifth grade, the student’s odds of dropping out of high school are substantially reduced. Another study by Fraga et al (1986) found that as the aggregate percentage of Latinx teachers in a district increased, so did the aggregate rate of high school completion and college attendance among Latinx students. The laudable moral goals of integration and equality of opportunity may be chief among the reasons to encourage a diverse teacher corps, but moral imperative is hardly the only reason. Broad ranging academic studies have found that diversity is a tangible resource that can benefit all children, just as businesses have found that having a diverse workforce can improve company performance. “Interacting with diverse students, teachers and school leaders on a daily basis can help reduce student prejudice towards people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds,” said a recent report by The Education Trust—New York, basing its conclusions as did NCSS on a number of authoritative studies. “Providing students with exposure to teachers and school leaders of color serves the important function of
demonstrating... that people of color can and should hold positions of authority in our society.
Improving diversity also promotes more – and more representative – voices at the table when important decisions are made about curriculum and instruction...” Writing for the Center for American Progress, researcher Ulrich Boser observed that “it is important for all students to interact with people who look and act differently than they do in order to build social trust and create a wider sense of community. In other words, the benefits of diversity are not just for students of color. They are also important for White students."
The subject of teacher diversity has been studied on Long Island, most recently as part of The Education Trust—New York’s (2017) report focusing on New York State. The NCSS study goes beyond that work and offers the most comprehensive building-by-building analysis and community interaction to date. District-wide data alone can mask significant developments in individual schools, especially in districts that have rising numbers of non-White teachers and students.
For instance, some districts with a growing number of non-White teachers are showing statistical and anecdotal signs of what more than one teacher of color in our focus groups called “minority ghettoes”— buildings where the percentages of primarily Latinx teachers exceed those in other buildings. More research is required to confirm and fully understand this phenomenon, as well as other aspects of minority teacher employment identified in the NCSS study, which is continuing.
“The findings demand a search for solutions that will create a more diverse teaching workforce on Long Island,” said Dafny J. Irizarry, president of the Long Island Latinx Teachers Association, which, along with the Long Island Black Educators Association, assisted NCSS with outreach to minority teachers and administrators. “This is a complex problem that requires comprehensive remedies. If we don’t do anything, and we don’t start now, the diversity gap will increase.”
"This study substantiates the degree of segregation and ystemic racism in Long Island schools," said Brenda Joyce Scott, President of the Long Island Black Educators Association. "The question is how you address these issues. It is clear that the responsibility starts with State to put resources behind the Regents' diversity initiatives, and to require school boards to do everything possible not just to hire more African-Americans, Latinxs and Asians but to create a culturally inclusive school environment."
To better understand the data, NCSS interviewed dozens of minority teachers and administrators in confidence to encourage them to speak freely. Many said they did not feel welcomed or accepted in their buildings, lacking mentors and social support networks more easily accessed by their majority White counterparts. Several used the word “isolated” to describe their situation and felt they were subjected to a different standard than non-minority colleagues. “Whites are considered competent until they prove over and over again that they are not,” said one Black teacher. “Minorities have to prove they are competent every day for their entire career.”
One commonly heard concern, which mirrors what studies around the country have found, was the lack of effective efforts to recruit and retain minority teachers. Most of the minority educators dispute the contention of many school district officials that they are being aggressive and creative but that the pool of qualified minority applicants is too small. The minority focus group members cited the need to “educate the educators,” such as superintendents, principals and school board members, about how to increase the number of minorities in their districts, and to create a “pipeline,” starting as early as middle school, to encourage more minorities to pursue careers in education.
Educators also expressed concern about the impact of a lack of minority teachers on their students, especially the dearth of Spanish speakers and Black men. Academic research and anecdotal evidence suggests that male students in particular perform better academically and endure fewer suspensions and expulsions when taught by Black men. “Increasing diversity in the teacher workforce is more than an issue of inclusion; it also is an issue of equity for students,” wrote former New York State Schools Chancellor David Steiner, in a policy brief for the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education.
Long Island has a history of racial inequities, such as the racial covenants of Levittown, “welfare dumping” in Hempstead Village, inequitable tax assessments in Nassau, attacks on Latinxs in Farmingville and Patchogue, and “red-lining” and “block busting” throughout the bi-county region.
Today, we are still living with the legacy of these practices and the attitudes that drove them: Long Island remains among the most segregated areas in the country. And nowhere but in education is the separation of races and ethnicities more apparent. Nearly half of Black and Latinx students attend a relative handful of heavily minority schools, most of which are among the region’s poorest in terms of funding and achievement. Minority teacher hiring reflects these patterns: The vast majority of non-White teachers head classrooms in schools where minorities are a majority of the students. But even in these schools, every one of which is located in a majority minority community, it is rare for a building to have more non-White teachers than White. In fact, only 14 of 642 buildings, or about two percent, have majority minority teaching corps.
Statistical trends, as well as academic research and interviews with Long Island educators, suggest that the racial disparities could even widen if the state and local districts do not make the hiring of minority teachers a priority and devote resources into developing effective methods for recruiting and retaining them. The “good news” is that more and more school districts, encouraged by the regional Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, appear to have identified this as a problem and are beginning to craft strategies and solutions. More research is required to confirm this to a greater degree of certainty. We hope the statistics in this study spur more districts, as well as state and regional leadership, to take corrective action.