A federal court judge in a scathing decision ordered the New York Fire Department (FDNY) to change their hiring practices to integrate the work force. Forty years ago the Court established a “disparate impact test” in the
Griggs v Duke Power Co. decision,
“What is required by Congress is the removal of artificial, arbitrary, and
unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to
discriminate on the basis of racial or other impermissible classification.”
Since race has no impact on the effectiveness of a firefighter management must
institute hiring practices that do not discriminate against protected groups.
What if race does impact?
Race is a highly sensitive issue, the subtext of every conversation is race, gender
and class. We shy away from discussing race, we fear stepping on toes, being
called a “racist,” (or a sexist, or promoting class warfare).
What does research say about the impact of the race of the teacher on student
The Department is data obsessed, we collect seemingly infinite bits of data and
base every meaningful decision on that data: the granting of tenure, the
closing of schools, annual teacher ratings, etc.
The Department has not collected data relating student achievement to the race of the teacher. In fact there is surprisingly little research in this area. Dee S.
Thomas of Swarthmore College, in a much quoted article writes,
“… we actually know very little about how differences between a teacher’s race and those of her students affect the learning environment. This study makes use of data from a randomized field trial conducted in Tennessee to produce higher-quality information on this controversial subject than has been available previously.
The results are troubling. Black students learn more from black teachers and white students from white teachers, suggesting that the racial dynamics within classrooms may contribute to the persistent racial gap in student performance, at least in Tennessee.”
Thomas goes on to warn us, “… the most important caveat is that this study
tells us little about why the racial match between students and teachers seems
So, the race of the teacher seems to matter, although we don’t know why. It could
be the training of the teacher, it could be the method of assigning students to
classes, or we could look at the work of Claude Steele.
In an iconic 1992 article Steele raises the issue of
“I have long suspected a particular culprit—a culprit that can undermine black
achievement as effectively as a lock on a schoolhouse door. The culprit I see
is stigma, the endemic devaluation many blacks face in our society and schools.
This status is its own condition of life, different from class, money, culture.
It is capable, in the words of the late sociologist Erving Goffman, of
‘breaking the claim’ that one’s human attributes have on people. I believe that
its connection to school achievement among black Americans has been vastly
We may speculate on the impact of the race match of students and teachers; data is interesting, troubling, but does not allow us to draw statistically significant
What is the impact of the race of the school leader on teachers?
A just released study from the University ofMissouri is enlightening,
“Teachers are substantially more likely to stay in schools run by a principal of the same race …. Teachers who share the same race as their principal … report higher job satisfaction, particularly in schools with African-American principals.
This association may be driven by differences in how such schools are managed,
given that teachers who share the same race as their principal report higher levels of administrative support and more recognition than other teachers report.”
* white teachers with white principals received more money in supplemental
salaries, such as stipends for coaching or sponsoring clubs, than
African-American teachers with white principals.
* In schools with African-American principals, the supplemental salary rates were roughly the same.
* African-American teachers reported much higher rates of intangible benefits,
such as administrative support and encouragement, classroom autonomy and
recognition for good job performance, when they worked for an African-American principal. The rates were roughly the same for all teachers under white
* The data shows race plays a significant role in the principal-teacher relationship, “It appears that African-American teachers generally have a more positive experience when the principal is of the same race.”
“Keiser (the primary researcher) says that previous research has shown that minority teachers improve the educational experience of minority students. Because of this, Keiser believes that her study shows the importance for maintaining the diversity of principals within schools as well.”
“Our results illustrate that an important factor in maintaining the racial diversity
of teachers is the diversity of the principals that supervise these teachers.
We hope these findings could provide justification for policymakers to
undertake programs targeted at increasing the flow of minority teachers into
the principal pipeline.”
Over the Klein years the percent of minority teachers in New York
declined primarily due to the reliance on Teacher for America, and
Teaching Fellows, who are predominantly white. Principals are selected either
through the Principals Academy, the Aspiring Principals programs, or, in some instances are promoted from assistant principal positions. The Department has a “principal exam” which moves candidates into the principal pool. (whether the Department can have requirements greater than those required by the State is an interesting question).
Observationally many of the newer principals are white and very few of the Academy or Aspiring Principals are Afro-American males.
Does it matter?
Should the Department make special efforts to include minority candidates in
the candidate pool? Do they have an informal “Rooney Rule“?
We must not shy away from difficult questions; an ostrich-like “head in the sand” reliance on data is foolish and not productive. We have to address difficult,
troubling and politically sensitive issues. Yes, I have worked with highly
effective white superintendents and principals in 100% Afro-American districts
and schools and totally ineffective Afro-American principals in 100%
“Closing the Achievement Gap” is a complex many-faceted conundrum. Too simply say a “great teacher in every classroom” is a Lake Woebegone
approach (“All children are above average”).
Poverty, class, race, funding, ethnicity, school leaders and teachers all enter the equation. We cannot afford to be selective, to avoid the difficult issues and simply use a “the beatings will continue until data improves” approach.
For too many of our youth incarceration is an alternative to college – and we must explore and find answers, no matter how difficult the answers might be.