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September 06, 2010

UPDATE: Two-Year Study Reveals Little Cultural Diversity Among VT Teachers

Here's an update to our August 25 cover story, "The Diversity Test: When it comes to hiring teachers of color, most Vermont schools get an F."

Today, the James M. Jeffords Center at the University of Vermont released the findings of its much-awaited survey on the racial and ethnic breakdown of Vermont's public-school workforce. A pdf of the full report can be downloaded here.

No major surprises inside: As expected, the authors — H. Bud Meyers at UVM and Lisa Bass at the University of Oklahoma — found that there aren't many people of color working in Vermont's public schools, and very little is being done at the district level to make Vermont's classrooms more, um, colorful. The diversity survey was sent to administrators at all 60 of Vermont's districts and supervisory unions, of which only 43 responded, representing approximately 80 percent of the entire teacher workforce.

Among the report's highlights:

  • The numbers are small and getting smaller: Out of the 6964 teachers in the 43 districts who responded to the survey (there are 8399 total teachers currently working in Vermont), only 61 full- or part-time teachers have "diverse cultural backgrounds." Of them, 16 are Asian, 16 are Latino, 11 are Native American or Pacific Islander, 10 are African American, and eight are Eastern European.
  • Out of 490 administrators currently working in Vermont, only seven are people of color, or roughly 1/100th of 1 percent. That number is down from 48 reported in 2000.
  • As the authors make clear, while the problem is bad and getting worse, very little, if anything, is being done by most districts to fix it: "While there is a general agreement that a culturally diverse workforce is needed," the authors write, "there are many perceived barriers to obtaining this goal, there are few resources currently being allocated to the recruitment process, and the retention is only moderately successful." Or, as one survey respondent put it, "Recruiting diverse folks to work in one of the whitest states in the nation will always be a challenge."

  • Several common reasons are offered for not attracting and retaining teachers of diverse backgrounds. More than nine in 10 respondents said their community is "too isolated" to offer the range of diverse culture that teachers and administrators of color would find appealing. More than 40 percent cited their districts' lack of students of color as a contributing factor. Another third said their districts couldn't compete in terms of salaries and benefits.
  • Most (more than 70 percent) districts have no written policy for recruiting people of color and all (100 percent) said their districts weren't using any strategies for doing so.
  • More than one-third of all school districts kept no stats whatsoever on the retention rates of their teachers of color.
  • As for addressing the problem — and the report makes it clear that having a culturally homogeneous educator workforce is problematic —  the report makes a number of recommendations, chief among them that more financial resources be devoted to attracting and retaining teachers from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Vermont schools have problems attracting qualified candidates at all with isolated communities that are not attractive to young people, by compaison with other states low wages and meager benefit packages. Additionally the governor says we have too many teachers, districts are cutting staff, not replacing retirees, the new state retirement plan encourages senior faculty to stay longer and finally we have a significant portion of the population so hostile to teachers and public schools that for any college graduates to consider the risk of teaching in Vermont is surprising. There probably are very few vacancies and very few candidates of color regardless of recruiting efforts.

Very true points, teachers in other surrounding states can make more relative to the cost of living, have a better retirement plan and not have to deal with ridiculous legislation like challenges for change that attempts to impose a top-down one-size-fits all solution. That on top of the isolation people of color can feel here means this just isn't something that's going to improve any time soon.

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