The Alaska Coalition of BIPOC — Black, Indigenous and people of color — Educators believes that both the Anchorage School District, or ASD, and Anchorage Education Association, aka AEA, are missing an excellent opportunity to address and fix the glaring racial disparity in our educator corps — again.
For the past 100 years, 85%-100% of all ASD educators have been white. Right now, white educators number 87% of all certificated staff. This is not a coincidence nor good. While the diversity of the students and families we serve has grown, the diversity of our teachers and administrators has fallen steadily behind. More than 60% of our students are from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, but only 13% of our teachers and administrators can say the same. Each day that our 60% non-white student population is taught by an 87% white teacher cadre is another daily and tacit endorsement of white supremacy. This failure underlines how deeply entrenched racial bias and white supremacist ideology is in our educational system. Equity cannot wait another day. It can and must happen now.
We also need to determine how and why we have had a virtually all-white educator workforce for the past century. What were the factors that brought us to this point and how we can move to a more equitable and representative district? The ASD and AEA must make this a top priority.
The ASD and AEA are currently in the middle of bargaining agreement contract negotiations. The basic outline of the current bargaining agreement has provided our teachers with a framework for a strong foundation upon which to bargain for reasonable wages, benefits and working conditions. All of which help provide our students with an effective and highly qualified professional team of teachers. We therefore must build on this foundation to address some large and growing inequities across our school district that keep our increasingly diverse student body from achieving its full potential.
All our students need to see in our educators the diversity represented in the ASD community itself. Research shows that all students benefit from having educators of color. Study after study, from the Learning Policy Institute, to the Center for American Progress, to the National Center of Educational Statistics, has shown empirical evidence which revealed that when taught by educators of color, students of color, in particular, have better academic performance, improved graduation rates, and are more likely to attend college. That is of the utmost importance in the ASD, where students of color make up to 60% of the student population, yet whose academic opportunities and outcomes are well below their white counterparts. It only makes sense.
Students of color also experience social-emotional and nonacademic benefits from having teachers and administrators of color, such as fewer unexcused absences and lower likelihood of chronic absenteeism and suspension.
A truly representative educator corps also helps broaden our white students’ understanding of the diverse world around them. Educators of color need to be presented and seen as trusted authority figures in the most formative years of their lives, especially at the preschool and elementary school levels. Educators of color not only represent a culturally broad cross-section of the world, but can also bring to bear lived experiences and unique perspectives their white counterparts can’t. This not only expands those students’ cultural world understanding, but enables and empowers them to better fight racism on all levels. Not facilitating this growth does them a disservice and causes long-term harm, as they will be ill-equipped to deal with the realities of an increasingly diverse and equitable world and will unfortunately get left behind. The ASD’s motto is “Educating All Students for Success in Life,” after all.
Increased educator diversity benefits teachers of color too, who experience feelings of isolation, frustration and fatigue when there are few others who can relate to their experience in their schools. This subsequently improves employment satisfaction for teachers of color and decreases turnover, a key contributor to teacher shortages and school instability.
During these negotiations neither side has mentioned the need to align our educator demographics with that of our students. This omission was not acceptable for the past 100 years and is not acceptable now. Both the AEA and ASD can no longer put these issues on the back burner or pawn off their responsibilities in this matter to someone else. They must own it and do their part to rectify the disparities that continue to plague our educator corps, and by extension our communities.
With that in mind there are several things the AEA can bargain the ASD for during these negotiations to help support real progress toward diversity and true representation among our educators:
• Standing up historically Black college and university recruitment liaisons
• Boosting military retiree and retiree spouse recruitment through Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base
• Partnering with local universities on teacher certification program scholarships for Alaska high school graduates of color and local teacher candidates of color with college degrees
• The ASD forming, staffing, and funding a Diversity Hiring Action Committee to help measure, monitor and manage initiatives that increase diversity among educators — teachers, staff, and administrators — to better reflect the students and communities we serve
• Various incentives for retention such as funding advanced degrees for additional years, preference in school choice, etc.
• Interview more candidate educators of color, at least in proportion to the diversity of our student population
The AEA and ASD are not alone, though. Totem Association ESP, NEA-Alaska, Anchorage Principal’s Association, and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development have a part to play, too. These organizations and their representatives can no longer brag about diversity while simultaneously being unwilling to empower that diversity with a representative educator workforce. They all have an inherent and moral responsibility to make sure more people of color are interviewed, hired and retained as educators, to better reflect our district, state and American demographics as a whole.
Danyelle Kimp and Roz’lyn Wyche are co-founders of the Alaska Coalition of BIPOC Educators. ACBE is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “Champion equity in education for communities of color in order to achieve equality.” Their top three priorities are: health and safety of educators, students, and communities of color; equity in academic opportunities and curriculum; and hiring and retention of educators of color. Follow and contact the ACBE at https://www.facebook.com/ALASKACBE
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