MTA and NAACP announce partnership to address achievement gaps

The state’s largest teachers’ union and the New England Area Conference of the NAACP have chosen today, the 84th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., to announce a partnership to address the educational achievement gaps affecting low-income students and students of color.

Priorities include increasing the number of teachers of color in Massachusetts public schools, improving access to affordable high-quality early childhood education for low-income students and students of color, and recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers to work in hard-to-staff urban schools.

“Education has long been the key to success for students of color,” said Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP. “Too many of our children enter kindergarten already behind and are never able to catch up.”

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Paul Toner said that the MTA is eager to work with the NAACP to make sure that all students have an opportunity to learn and thrive in the state’s public schools.

 “On average, our students perform better than students in any other state and as well as top-performing students in the world,” Toner said. “Unfortunately, averages can mask persistent disparities. While many students in our high-achieving schools are winning spots in top universities and succeeding in their studies, too high of a percentage of students entering our higher education system – especially English language learners, students of color and low-income students – still need remedial education before they can take college-level courses. In addition, college completion rates are too low for these students.”

Cofield and Toner agreed that poverty among African-American and Latino students is at the root of the problem and must be addressed through broad political and economic reforms. They also agreed, however, that school systems can do more to close educational achievement gaps if they are given adequate funding and support.            

The goals of the partnership include the following:

  • Increasing the number of educators of color. Students of color benefit greatly from having educator role models who understand and share their backgrounds. Here as in other states, teachers of color are underrepresented in schools. While 93 percent of Massachusetts teachers are white, they are serving a much more diverse population – one in which 29 percent of students are from ethnic and racial minority backgrounds. More specifically, 8 percent of students, but only 2.6 percent of teachers, are African-American and 15 percent of students, but less than 3 percent of teachers, are Latino.
  • Improving the quality and affordability of early childhood education. According to a recent report by the NAACP, by the time they reach age 3, children from higher-income families have heard as many as 30 million more words than children from lower-income families. (Finding Our Way Back to First: Reclaiming World Leadership by Educating All America’s Children, 2012.) In addition to educating parents about the importance of talking to and reading to their children, it is critical to provide children with access to high-quality early education.
  • Encouraging and supporting more highly qualified and experienced educators to work in low-income area schools in order to improve the quality of instruction. Better compensation and working conditions in hard-to-staff schools are important tools to advance this effort.
  • Providing teachers and administrators with resources to support excellent teaching, learning and leading. Teachers and administrators need time to plan, prepare, evaluate and assess their instruction and their students’ learning. This requires more time and resources and much more engagement with parents and the community to make all students successful.
  • Examining and addressing racial disparities in school discipline and reducing school suspensions. While school safety must be a priority, student suspensions for nonviolent offenses lead to increased dropout rates and future incarceration – creating the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. Promoting disciplinary measures that do not deprive students of time-on-learning is a shared goal.

John L. Reed, chair of the NEAC’s Education Committee and a former member of the MTA Board of Directors, was instrumental in promoting the new partnership between the two organizations.

“The NEAC and the MTA are both excellent organizations, and they share similar goals for educating students of color,” Reed said. “As the number and percentage of these students increase in our state and across the country, we need to be aggressive in making sure they are well served by our public schools. Fairness, justice and the health of our economy and our communities depend on how well we as a society can address persistent achievement gaps that limit opportunities for too many children of color.”

The NAACP and the MTA will be working together to seek additional community partners in this work and to build on these initial conversations on how best to work together toward our common goal of excellent public schools and education for every student.