Does the District Have a Diversity Problem?

3 mins read

The Sequoia Union High School District is currently in the process of approving the 2023-2024 Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which will define the District’s budget and goals for a three-year cycle.

At recent board meetings, numerous community members have voiced concerns that the District has issues recruiting and retaining teachers of color, specifically pointing to goal five of the LCAP, which states, “The District will design and implement a highly effective recruitment, development, and retention system to attract and retain the best educational professionals, create a safe and inclusive climate, build capacity, and increase diversity.” 

Amidst allegations of discrimination against minority teachers, the District seems to be redoubling its efforts to fulfill this goal of diversifying its teaching staff. 

The M-A Chronicle filed Public Records Act Requests with the District for data on the racial breakdown of district employees and teachers since 2017. In analyzing the data received, it is important to consider that race and ethnicity information is self-reported by staff members.

During the 2023-24 school year, the district employed 1202 employees, with 221 of them working at M-A. Out of the 1202 employees, 669 are credentialed or have a teaching degree. The remaining 533 are not credentialed and serve roles such as campus aides or paraprofessionals. 

While non-credentialed staff are essential to a functioning campus and many have leadership roles in clubs and extracurriculars, the racial breakdown of our credentialed staff, who are primarily teachers, gives us the best picture of the diversity of who leads our classes.

This year, both M-A and the District had the lowest number of credentialed Black teachers since 2017, employing 19 credentialed Black teachers district-wide, with two of them serving at M-A.

Data also shows that the District has experienced a consistent decrease in the number of credentialed Black teachers over the past six years, highlighting a possibly broader issue for the district of retaining Black teachers.

In comparison, the District’s efforts seem to be working better for Hispanic teachers. In the 2023-24 school year, the total number of Hispanic teachers employed by the district and employed at M-A reached their highest levels since 2017, with 138 Hispanic teachers in the district and 30 at M-A. 

Meanwhile, the number of white teachers employed in the last seven years remains disproportionately high, hovering around 430 for the entire district and 100 at M-A.

With almost half of M-A students (40%) being Hispanic, and only 30 credentialed Hispanic teachers, disparities are clear within the demographics of M-A’s teaching staff. 

Furthermore, while Black students represent 4% of M-A’s population, Black teachers represent just 0.9% of M-A’s teachers.

One of the major reasons for this new push to diversify public schools across the country comes from new research proving that representation in classrooms is critical to positive learning environments.

In a 2005 study, Stanford Professor Thomas Dee found that students who had teachers of a different race from them were 46% more likely to be seen as ‘disruptive,’ 34% more likely to be seen as ‘inattentive,’ and 28% more likely to be seen as ‘rarely completing assignments.’

In 2018, another study showed a 6.1% increase in Black students taking a college entrance exam (SAT or ACT) when they had at least one Black teacher. Moreover, the same study found a 19% increase in the probability that a Black student attends college when they have at least one Black teacher.

Most studies point to two possible reasons for this increase in performance among students with same-race teachers. First, students with teachers of the same race and ethnicity have stronger connections with those teachers and subsequently feel more positively about school, and therefore perform better. Second, teachers of the same race and ethnicity as their students tend to have higher expectations for those students, and subsequently, the students rise to meet these expectations.

Research has also shown a positive correlation to attendance. When Hispanic students had teachers who were also Hispanic, their attendance rates notably improved. Specifically, underclassmen had a 2% lower probability of being absent or having an unexcused absence when they had a Hispanic teacher, while upperclassmen had a 5% lower probability of not showing up to class. The study noted that students often transport themselves to school during their upperclassmen years, showing that students who have the choice to be at school, are more likely to show up when they have a teacher of the same race.

A lack of teacher diversity at the high school level is just part of the problem. Most of the studies cited specifically highlight that the lack of diversity in teaching staff is a systemic problem that must be addressed at all levels of the education system, not just high schools.

Further research must be done in order to clarify the connection between students having teachers of their own race and success, however, based on currently available data, if schools wish to improve student success, increasing their teacher diversity seems like a step in the right direction.

Ameya is a junior in his second year of journalism. He enjoys writing stories about education, sports, and local news and politics. In his free time he enjoys spending time with friends and watching movies.

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