Union: Metro schools suffer from institutional racism

Monday, July 20, 2009 at 2:13am

Only a small number of Metro teachers’ contracts each year are terminated due to poor performance, but too many of those teachers are minorities, according to teachers’ union the Metro Nashville Education Association.

“Institutional racism is an issue that the district has to come to grips with,” said MNEA President Erick Huth. “You have a system that undervalues minorities as employees. The best way to say it is that there are institutional barriers to attracting and retaining minorities in this district.”

The issue of too few minority teachers at Metro schools is one that the MNEA has raised repeatedly over the years.

The majority of Nashville public school students are not white. But that’s not the case for Metro’s teachers. Of Metro’s nearly 6,000 current teachers, 70 percent are white and 28.5 percent African-American. Less than one percent of teachers are Hispanic, and even less are Asian.

That’s a stark contrast from the racial breakdown of Metro’s students. According to state Report Card data, 48 percent of Metro students last were African-American, 34 percent Caucasian, 14 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent Asian or Pacific Islander.

Officials with Metro Nashville Public Schools have acknowledged that a goal of the district is to increase percentages of minority teachers. District spokesperson Olivia Brown said the district devotes resources to efforts such as attending recruitment fairs at historically black colleges.

“The recruitment of highly qualified, minority teachers is a key goal,” Brown said. “It’s maybe not quite where we want it to be, but we have seen increases based on those efforts.”

Huth, however, considers the district’s minority recruitment efforts “lackluster.” The problem is compounded, he recently told Board of Education members, by a trend he observes of disproportionate numbers of minority teachers having contracts terminated due to poor performance.

The numbers Huth is dealing with are small, compared to the size of the MNPS teaching force. Out of nearly 6,000 teachers district-wide, only 51 teachers’ contracts were not renewed for the upcoming school year due to performance, according to data obtained from the district by the MNEA.

Among those 51 teachers, the MNEA data indicates, 45 percent (a total of 23 teachers) identify themselves as African-American. White teachers make up 51 percent of that group, with 26 teachers having been terminated. One Hispanic teacher is part of the group, as is one Asian or Pacific Islander.

Process is flawed

Though this is a small group, Huth said the percentages are similar to what he’s seen in previous years. The teachers’ union has also seen several individual cases in recent months in which the reasons for termination of minority teachers appeared to be murky.

Union members have come to believe, Huth said, that some schools simply have a pattern of not renewing contracts of minority teachers.

“We’ve had some cases where the evaluation process seemed to be flawed, and the only factor that’s apparent to us is race,” Huth said. “There are schools where they don’t re-elect African-Americans. That establishes a pattern.”

Brown said that MNPS plans to look into Huth’s concerns, but the number of teachers involved is too small a sample size to suggest a trend.

“You’re talking 26 teachers versus 23 teachers,” she said. “While the percentages look higher, if you’re talking about one year, it doesn’t really show a trend.”

School board Chair David Fox also noted the small sample size. He said he considers the matter an administrative one, and that he thinks an appropriate response would be for the district to respond to Huth’s concerns and courtesy copy school board members.

“I was interested to see the information, and I’m confident that the administration is doing a lot to mine the talent that exists in the African-American pool of teachers, as well as the Hispanic pool of teachers,” Fox said.

School board member Gracie Porter said she wants to learn more about the contract renewal issue, but would like to see the district recruit more minority teachers and secure a teaching force that better reflects the demographics of Metro students. As a past Metro principal, she said she hasn’t seen institutional racism at Metro schools.

“From my perspective, I don’t see it as a racial issue. I see it as an issue as being able to recruit those individuals,” Porter said. “I just always believe in getting the best teachers for the classroom, and I’m sure there are a lot of minority teachers out there who are very good teachers. We just have to find them.”

Recruitment issues remain

Racial homogeneity of teachers is the case nationally, as well as locally. In Nashville and in the state of Tennessee as a whole, the situation has been recognized as one needing a solution. A shortage of minority teachers locally was noted as recently as the district’s strategic planning process of recent years.

In Tennessee, the State Board of Education found a shortage of minority teachers in 1987, and implemented recommendations from a task force the following year to add more diversity to the teaching force. State legislation was passed in 1993 urging local school boards to set goals for recruiting and retaining African-American teachers, according to the state Department of Education.

According to a 2006 report from the DOE, 60 percent of MNPS teachers for the 2004-2005 school year were white. While that percentage is lower than in many other state school districts, just 33 percent of teachers in the Memphis City school district that year were white. The percentage of white students in Memphis City public schools was, that year, far lower than the percentage for MNPS.

Huth has said that Memphis and Houston have a solid track record of recruiting education program graduates from local historically black college Tennessee State University.

In addition, Huth has said, starting teacher salaries are higher in Memphis than at MNPS, contributing to the recruitment success.

13 Comments on this post:

By: ucan on 7/20/09 at 5:19

Here goes the race card! Show me more than percentages, like GPA scores, classsroom achievements, and etc. before you play the race card. I don't care what color the person is teaching my children, I just want the best. For those teachers that are there just to collect a paycheck, Get out! Maybe the union should spend less time screaming race without justification and more time at colleges helping recruit the best teachers in the nation. If the union was more proactive than reactive, then metro might not be a position for the state to take over. Can anyone show me proof that a teacher was not rehired when there was someone on their level that had less achievements than them?

By: tv8527 on 7/20/09 at 5:25

Ditto ..Well said.

By: sickofstupidity on 7/20/09 at 6:19

More blame it on whitey dribble. How do you take tahe unmotivated students, poorly trained and undedicated teachers and have anything but a failing school district. Stop busing and let neighborhood schools foster parental involvement. When parents are concerned and involved, those schools will prosper. In areas where education takes a back seat to almost everything, the schools will fail. So be it. Lets stop wasting time and money on those who make no effort to improve their lives or status.

By: sidneyames on 7/20/09 at 6:31

"Institutional racism is an issue that the district has to come to grips with,” said MNEA President Erick Huth. “You have a system that undervalues minorities as employees. The best way to say it is that there are institutional barriers to attracting and retaining minorities in this district.". The words "good performance" or "bad performance" are not a color - they are an act. If people do not perform well, then no matter what race they are, they need to step aside and let a more conscienscious and qualified person or company step in. I, too, am tired of the race card being played. Hey, I want a lot of free government benefits, but I don't qualify. Is that because I have a job, or because I'm white? Hmmmmmm! Maybe it's my race. I'll have to look into that one.

By: frank brown on 7/20/09 at 6:44

Anyone who reads this article and believes that you can save the "public" school system in Nashville must be either part of the underclass or a complete blithering excuse for a human being.

I would hate to be in school today and taught by an underclass teacher who actually believed they were educated.

By: govskeptic on 7/20/09 at 6:46

Mr. Huth's real complaint/PROBLEM is membership, not education of our children.
Initial membership and continued membership is higher in the miniority teachers than it is within the white and asian teachers. Another more pressing problem is the large number of greatly qualified young teachers that quickly become disillusioned and leave the profession early for other jobs! This Union has been
out of touch with the reality of improving education in this state for many years.

By: anonymous2 on 7/20/09 at 7:13

"Of Metro’s nearly 6,000 current teachers, 70 percent are white and 28.5 percent African-American."
Why is this a problem? According to the 2000 census, Nashville's population consists of 65.91% white and 26.81% African-American. I think the school system is pretty close to our demographic numbers. Using only the student population as a base skews the numbers.

By: localboy on 7/20/09 at 8:11

Anonymous2 raises a good point. I also think the MNEA may have a point - only 51 terminations for poor performance? If the number of contracts not renewed went up next year to correlate any of the racial percentages noted, it's potentially a win-win situation: more underperforming personnel are replaced, and the MNEA loses membership. Mr. Huth should watch out, wishes can come true.

By: TNReader on 7/20/09 at 9:44

I agree with the comments above. Another factor is that all school districts and private schools are recruiting minority teaching candidates. I suspect that most teachers, regardless of race, would rather teach in a private school, or in Williamson County or Rutherford County than in Metro (I know years ago my son's second grade teacher said that by moving to our school system from Metro, she would be able to teach again and not just be a baby sitter). I believe the top minority teachers take this route, leaving Metro with less desirable candidates that just don't pan out.

By: JeffF on 7/20/09 at 12:03

Funny how you can pay more than other systems and still lose out to the neighboring counties. Speaks volumes about the governance and their priorities.

By: JeffF on 7/20/09 at 1:07

Hooray to Metro schools people for looking past the color of a person's skin and firing those people not doing an adequate job teaching our children and for trying to hire the besto qualified person for the job.

By: real_frank_brown on 7/22/09 at 8:33

The above postings by the person posing as me are ignorant and not shared by me.

By: etoft on 7/22/09 at 9:32

Look at the graduation rates for teachers across the nation...not the ratios of minorities in our schools...to see what the teacher ratios should be.

This document http://nces.ed.gov/fastFacts/display.asp?id=98 shows the ethnic distribution of students attending degree granting institutions over years ranging from 1976 to 2005. If you assume a linear correlation to education majors, you will see that there is a very logical correlation to the number of teachers employed by MNPS.

If you will allow me to run with that assumed correlation, the document shows that for 2005, degrees were granted in the following percentages by ethnicity: White – 65.7 Black – 12.7 Hispanic – 10.8 Asian or Pacific Islands – 6.5.

While it is true that MNPS is only slightly over its share (65.7% as studied compared to 70% as quoted) of White teachers (based on the 2005 percentages), MNPS actually has MORE than DOUBLE its “fair share” (12.7% as studied compared to 28.5% as quoted) of African-American teachers. In contrast MNPS has FAR less than its fair share of Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander teachers.

Therefore it is a simple matter of teacher supply…not recruiting effort…not retention policies. In fact we have apparently over-recruited African American teachers to the virtual exclusion of Hispanic, Asian, and other ethnicities. In doing so a case might be made that we may have favored less qualified teachers who have not been able to perform up to par in the classroom.

Please, try to do your homework before coming to class the next time.

Erik T.

I know assumptions are bad so I needed more deffinitive data to make an air tight case for this argument. I found this doc later, and it has more pertinent data which I think bears out my assumption.


About 83 percent of all public school teachers were non-Hispanic White, 7
percent were non-Hispanic Black, and 7 percent were Hispanic. Among all
private school teachers, 86 percent were non-Hispanic White, 4 percent were non-
Hispanic Black, and 6 percent were Hispanic (table 2).