Shaun Donovan

13. How will you ensure that arts education leadership and instruction better reflects the population of 1.1 million public school students? What will you do to ensure that arts education reflects the cultures, values, and learning abilities of students engaged in it?

I believe that it is essential that the content discussed in our classrooms and the people leading those discussions mirror the diversity of our student body, as outlined in my Education Platform.

We know that having educators who reflect our students makes a difference; research shows that having a Black teacher by third grade increases a Black student’s likelihood to graduate high school by 7% and to enroll in college by 13%; with two Black teachers, that shoots up to 32%. Yet in New York City, fewer than 44% of our teachers and 47% of our school leaders are people of color compared to 85% of our students. This reality is most stark in communities that the city has underinvested in for too long—in the Bronx for instance, 62% of students are Latinx but only 27% of educators are. We must aim to increase the number of educators and school leaders who identify as people of color to at least 65% of all teachers and 70% of all school leaders over the next ten years, by investing in hiring, preparing and retaining diverse educators, building on the success of programs like NYC Men Teach, to develop additional pipelines and ensure that our educators reflect the diversity of the young people they serve as well as the languages they speak; and ensuring a systemwide focus on and transparency around educator diversity. This is important for our students, but also for economic empowerment in our communities; educator jobs are strong pathways to the middle class.

In terms of preparation, we should work with high schools and CUNY to create early exposure programs and scaffolded pathways to teaching for high school and college students, particularly those interested in working in their own communities; and to build more pathways for diverse educators, including pathways for other educators who are more likely to be of color to become classroom teachers, like paraprofessionals, early childhood educators, after school program employees, and staff in community-based organizations. Critically, both of these pipelines are more likely to include many educators who are bilingual and have special education experience, which would help develop a stronger pipeline of bilingual educators and bilingual special education teachers for our students. We could learn from the High School to Teacher program in Boston Public Schools and the Scaling Education Pathways in Illinois program as models for building strong pipelines of young people already in the city’s schools to become the future educators of color.

But preparation is just the start; schools must be supportive environments for all educators, especially educators of color, that lead to long-term retention, promotion, and diversity at all levels of instruction and administration. Data show that across the city, Latinx teachers have spent an average of 1.2 years less in their current school than White teachers—7.3 years for Latinx teachers vs. 8.5 years on average for White teachers. We must establish systems to retain, support, and elevate diverse educators in schools, including pathways to school leadership; and value the assets in our communities, including community-based leaders, educators of color, and local civil rights leaders, to design high-quality training programs for educators, such as anti-bias training, as well as curricula that increase the cultural responsiveness of education.

Finally, we must build on the work the City Council has done to make data available on teacher diversity, to facilitate focus and transparency. We must hold ourselves accountable for progress through more accessible, actionable data on educator diversity at every level, including data on how educators of color experience the workplace. We should make public longitudinal data on demographics and rates of turnover at the school, district, and borough level.

Reimagining means not just reverting to our pre-COVID normal, but creating schools that center the needs and experiences of students historically marginalized and underserved and foster holistic skills and development for all students. We must work with educators, families, experts in the field of equity and the science of learning, and community-based organizations to lead with a vision for schools that cultivates students’ multiple identities, fosters physical and mental wellness, supports social and emotional development, and develops their cognitive and academic skills. This framework will ensure that students’ identities are supported through culturally responsive practices, that social and emotional development is integrated into every facet of the school environment and instruction, and that a continuum of mental health care for students inside and outside of schools is well articulated. The framework will help all stakeholders understand a complete and integrated vision for school culture, climate, and instruction, and end the confusion over multiple guides, frameworks, and approaches or competing priorities imposed upon school leaders and educators. It will be supported with guidance, protocols, and ongoing professional development so that all school leaders, educators, and staff are equipped to implement it.

In order for this new vision for schools to be successful, we must first dismantle practices that focus on policing and disciplining students and make schools unsafe for many students of color—contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. We must remove police from schools, starting with schools that employ multiple School Resource Officers (SROs), following the example of cities like Minneapolis, Oakland, Denver, and Portland. Some of the savings should be reinvested in Positivity, Prevention, Relationships, and Response (PPARR) Coordinators, trained in child development, de-escalation, and understanding how trauma and life experiences impact behavior, to create a positive learning environment. Current SROs will be supported in transitioning to these new roles if they are interested and ready to participate in the necessary training, or in being absorbed into the New York Police Department if they prefer to remain in law enforcement.

Removing police officers from schools is just a start; we must remove all vestiges of prison culture: eliminating metal detectors, on-campus arrests and handcuffing (except in the extremely limited circumstances where student and educator safety is actually and immediately in danger), and incident reporting for routine student behavior that leads to police intervention and police records. These practices create a hostile climate instead of a supportive learning environment, and lead to police records that launch students—especially students of color—into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Finally, we must tackle unfair disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities—and support educators to make these critical shifts. Although suspensions have decreased in the past couple of years, the overall number of suspended students remains far too high, with disproportionate numbers of students of color and students with disabilities receiving punishments that exclude them from the classroom. Educators must receive robust training on alternatives to traditional disciplinary actions like suspension that deprive children of opportunities to learn.

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NYC AiE Roundtable