Racism in Connecticut’s education system must be exposed and corrected
Systemic racism and organized implicit bias is prevalent in many institutions. Presently, many are demonstrating against practices that derive from unconscious bias, such as, police brutality, and racial discrimination. Protests are compelling organizations, like the NFL, to inspect their policies and whites to examine their own mental models concerning blacks. While not an easy feat, bringing attention to the issue is the beginning to rectifying the problem. For years, black people have been aware of police brutality against their own, this is not a new problem to us, but one that has been repeated for decades; it is now exposed.
In Connecticut’s education system, the persistence of systemic racism and organized implicit bias must be scrutinized and exposed as well. The majority of educators, approximately 90%, making decisions on who gets hired, promoted in a district and even at the state level, are white. As in other institutions, mental models, hierarchical belief systems on race, and on the intellectual capacity and potential of black people affect decision-making. In other words, who gets hired, who does not, who gets promoted and who does not, is mostly, the decision of a white person.
My own research, Black Certified Educators’ Lived Experiences Seeking Employment in Connecticut’s Public Education System, examined racial discrimination and unconscious bias prevalent in education here in Connecticut. The study found that all black participants (certified educators) experienced and perceived unconscious bias and racial discrimination during the hiring process. For years, blacks like myself have been very aware of the inequitable hiring, promoting, and overall biases within Connecticut’s education system; albeit, the mere mention of race and inequities will draw ire and denials by whites.
Most research pertaining to black educators is concentrated on the need to increase this group in the school system. Studies have found that the partnership of black teacher/black student produces positive impact on the students’ academics and emotionality. Black leaders and teachers within a school building provide strong role modeling significant to identity development and future aspirations by the student. In the State of Connecticut, legislators implemented several measures in 2012 and 2015 to increase the number of minority (black and Hispanic) school teachers and administrators in the public school system. State statute 10-155l was enacted in 2012 to encourage minority (defined as non-white) teacher and administrator recruitment.
Urban districts with low academic performance (presently 33) could apply for an Alliance Grant (2015) to help improve student academic outcomes; a recommendation of funding is to increase the numbers of minority teachers and administrators — that has not happened. It looks good on paper; however, the minority educator shortage persists. There has been only a tenth of a percent increase since 2012. In fact, in 2019, some districts in Connecticut had no minorities on staff; affluent districts employ few educators of color or none at all. For example, among Greenwich district’s 978 teachers, 2% were black; Darien district had 1% among 544; Westport and Wilton had fewer than 1%; and Weston district had none.
Racism is more covert now
Blacks have been particularly disadvantaged in the education system. Efforts to remedy disparities through legislation are historic. At the time of Brown versus Board of Education, Topeka (1954), most college educated blacks were educators. Brown v. Board of Education was a historical event that contributed to the present-day black teacher shortage. The law was designed to implement equality for students by desegregating schools; however, integrating schools did not include black educators and many were left without positions. Many white parents did not want a black educating their children.
The Civil Rights Act (1964) was enacted to mitigate Jim Crow laws and address overt racial discrimination, including in the workforce. Despite the progress seen in this country since the civil rights legislation, racial discrimination continues to pervade America; albeit, covertly. No longer are blacks ordered to drink from designated water fountains or use labeled bathrooms, or called derogatory names. Today, racism is systemic throughout institutions and organizations and covert; if you are black in the education system, you are not afforded the same options as those who are white. A black educator is not promoted as readily, getting hired is challenging, you have to work harder, we pay a black tax. We cannot just be as good as our white counterparts, but must demonstrate supreme skill set, and maybe, just maybe, we will be recognized or tapped for a position.
For the most part, all blacks will encounter some form of racism; in a 2019 survey, roughly eight-in-ten blacks with at least some college experience (81%) said that they had experienced racial discrimination, 17% stated from time to time. Systemic racism is embedded and woven in the fabric of America. Past historical events have permeated the mental models associated with hierarchies woven in the fabric in U.S. society resulting in systemic organizational racism. Events like slavery, Brown versus BOE, Jim Crow have shaped people’s hierarchy of races in decision making, including the racial inequities found in the education system.
Black educators in Connecticut, with the appropriate credentials, have found job attainment difficult in any district. According to the State’s Diversifying the Educator Workforce office, between 2013 and 2017, 739 qualified minority educators had not attained positions in Connecticut’s education system; approximately 300 black, and 350 Hispanic. In essence, there are black educators who are qualified and not hired by districts. According to Connecticut’s Department of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 651 teacher positions available, yearly, between 2013 and 2017; a total of 2,604. Not hiring 300 black educators total in that same time span is not acceptable.
Hiring practices of districts must be scrutinized and evaluated for biases. In order to discern the obstacles faced by the 739 certified educators of color, the Connecticut State Department of Education conducted a survey in May 2018 to gain an understanding of their experiences as they sought employment. Eventually, 111 of the initial 739, or 15%, of the minority educators were employed by June 2019, no data on the race/ethnicity of those educators was extracted by the state.
At this point, the state’s initiatives to increase black educators are a failure. We should have no capable black certified or any other minority educator without a position. Districts are not hiring blacks no matter what initiatives are in place. The hiring power in many districts is concentrated by whites. In fact, urban districts like Stamford, Bridgeport, Norwalk, Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury and others that are awarded Alliance grants are not hiring blacks as they should be; though, the Alliance grant recommends that it be utilized to increase minority educators. There is sentiment among research that demonstrates that blacks are afforded interviews but not hired.
A call for change is needed. How can we be asked to “grow our own” and lead black high school students toward careers in education when they may not be hired once they graduate from college? Personally, I am concerned about the high school students I guided to education programs at universities.
Efforts must be monitored
Aspirations for change by the State Department of Education are commendable; however, no change is substantiated, if not monitored and evaluated for its efficacy.
As the creators of the state’s initiatives, these state leaders should monitor the districts where barriers to black educator job attainment occur. Systematic monitoring would involve tracking how many applications black educators submit to a district for a particular position, how many black educators are interviewed, and how many are hired. Leaders should ensure that a comparative analytical review of applications at the district level is equitable.
In addition, they must ensure that hiring decisions are based on educators’ skills, education, and experience on the academic, social, and emotional needs of black students. The state should also provide an opportunity for black educators to tell their personal stories, including stories about applying, interviewing, and working for specific districts. It is important for district leaders to disclose the number of applications black educators have submitted and the number hired. These data could provide the State with firsthand information on the practices of districts.
The state cannot leave hiring solely to districts or expect hiring committees to practice equitability in the hiring of black educators. In fact, there is meta-analytical research that has found no evidence of change in racial discrimination against blacks between 1989 and 2015; thus, racial biases remain common in U.S. society even after legislation to transform inequitable practices.
The initiatives in Connecticut to increase black educators are a foundation to build on, a good beginning. Having one, two, three blacks in an interview panel is not the answer, nor does it facilitate hiring of black educators. District’s must be held accountable for the lack of hiring and promoting black educators; not just providing data of how many blacks were interviewed. The award of an Alliance grant should be reduced or rescinded, if hiring is not demonstrated.
There are black educators who are presently seeking employment and the state should assist them. They have to either reinforce the initiatives in place or should just do away with them; we are trussed in a system that is doing nothing for us. Study after study has demonstrate the significance of black educator/black student partnership. We matter.
Anita Samuels, Ed.D lives in Watertown.
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