The Educator Diversity Act: Game Changing Policy to Promote Teacher Diversity
By: Manny Cruz
In the wake of our country’s conversations about racism and the need for anti-racist action, we need to have candid and clear-eyed conversations on how we can advance equity and representation in our schools. If we want districts and schools to be anti-racist, then we need representation in the classroom that leads to more educators of color in leadership positions. To accomplish that, we need policies that will directly promote and measure diverse hiring and retention practices.
We already know that student outcomes improve when students are seen and represented by their teachers and administrators in schools. In some of Massachusetts’ most diverse school districts, however, diverse educators only account for a small fraction of the teacher workforce. For instance, in Lawrence and Haverhill, where Latino students comprise 93 percent and 40 percent of the student population, respectively, only 11 percent and 3 percent of their educator workforce is Latino. If we are to recruit and retain educators and administrators of color, then we need to ensure our systems and policies provide pathways for them to enter and succeed in their field.
One legislative piece that can help is the recently introduced Educator Diversity Act. This legislation, sponsored by Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch and Senator Lewis, would strengthen and fix the pipeline that currently exists for educators of color to enter the profession and to be retained.
The bill would create new pathways for teachers to become licensed educators by providing alternative, yet equivalent, credentials that would be reviewed and approved by the Massachusetts Department of Education. It’s an effective approach for training and recruiting talented educators of color. The reality is that the path to becoming an educator, much like any other profession, isn’t always a straight line. Some individuals might have a career pivot, others realize later in life they want to enter the profession, that lived experience is important, and should not keep someone from being able to pursue a career in teaching.
The bill also creates new mechanisms for school districts to measure and improve their hiring and retention policies, especially for educators of color. At the state level, it would encourage the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to work with stakeholders to create an Educator Diversity Dashboard that would measure the diversity of teachers in the Commonwealth. At the school district level, it would encourage the appointment of Diversity Officers or teams tasked with overseeing hiring, training, and retention policies at each school district. And at all levels of the school district, it would ensure that all staff receive diversity, equity , and inclusion training on an ongoing basis.
This bill will be a game-changer for all students in Massachusetts. As a student in Salem Public Schools, I only had three educators who were Latinx during my entire K-12 journey. These became more than teachers, they became my mentors. Because of their guidance and support, I had the opportunity to explore my culture, language, and identity in the classroom. They understood the challenges I was facing because they too had similar experiences in their youth. It’s because of them that I’m so involved in education and advocating on behalf of Latinx students.
It’s become clear from my own experience that educators of color are best equipped to break down systems of oppression that are holding students of color back. When we invest in the success of these educators, we’re committing to the students they serve as well. As we plan a return to the classroom, we must abandon the systems we had before and embrace change. I hope that with the approval of the Educator Diversity Act in Massachusetts, we can finally level the playing field for students and educators to create a school system that is as diverse as the population it serves.
Manny Cruz is the Massachusetts Advocacy Director for Latinos for Education as well as an elected school committee member, entrepreneur, and community leader in the city of Salem. He previously served as the legislative aide for former State Representative Juana B. Matias (D, Lawrence) and State Representative Paul F. Tucker (D, Vice Chair, Salem) where specialized in education and immigration policy. Manny graduated with honors from Northeastern University with a B.S in Political Science and as a La Comunidad Latina En Acción Scholar.