Sunday, October 3, 2010

race and sex diversity in Arlington Public Schools

As a follow-up to the Ode Street Tribune's investigative report on race and sex diversity in Arlington Public Schools, I emailed current school board candidates Sally Baird (incumbent) and Miriam Gennari (challenger) the following questions:
1.  What is the sex composition of Arlington Public Schools' teachers, on an FTE basis, categorized by elementary schools, secondary schools, and overall?

2.  What will you do to seek more male teachers in Arlington County Public Schools, particularly in elementary schools?
Both candidates responded, in one case after a follow-up email, and in another, after an in-person request.  

Here are the most recent, publicly available, systematic, well-sourced facts about race and sex diversity in Arlington Public Schools

Here's Sally Baird's response:
In education circles, it’s often said that the single biggest factor influencing achievement is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. I believe that the first priority in hiring staff, can and should be ensuring that each brings the skills, expertise, and passion to inspire and support our students in achieving their greatest academic success. But, in that context, I also believe that it’s vital that, as school system, we bring great dimension to our perspective of how to assess a candidate’s skills, expertise, and passion. I have been a strong supporter of our school systems ongoing commitment to build cultural competence across the organization. Cultural competence plays out in the quality of the interactions and relationships which staff has with students, each other, and members of our community.

As a School Board member, I have been a strong advocate for innovative recruiting efforts to attract candidates reflective of our Arlington student body – which, yes, includes gender diversity.  It’s an inescapable fact, however, that minority and/or male candidates are a challenge to bring in large numbers to school system applicant pools. It is a nationwide challenge.  Proportionately, there are fewer such candidates available, and many school systems are vying for their interest. This is yet another reason why ensuring that compensation and benefits for Arlington teachers remains competitive in the region.

However, even with those qualifications, I am extremely proud of the strides APS has made in recent years to attract a broader range of candidates. There is work yet to do, but our hiring statistics reflect that we are moving in the right direction, especially in this most recent year. Our school principals are keenly aware of the value role models play in the classrooms and hallways of their schools. And, on the issue of gender diversity, I was recently talking to a dad friend of mine, whose son is in fourth grade – and this dad remarked to me that his son had had a male teacher for all but one of his elementary years. So, while that is certainly not the case in every school, it certainly is indicative of deliberate efforts to bring a diverse talent pool into the Arlington Public Schools.
Here's Miriam Gennari's response:
I know that the majority of teachers in Arlington are female. I feel that fact in many ways is a disadvantage to both male and female students. Studies have shown that boys and girls do learn differently. There have also been numerous studies that suggest having same gender role models for children benefit both sexes. Boys often struggle with their innate need to compete, while girls put in cooperative settings are found to excel in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

What I would like to see is at least one school community consider trying a model that separates girls and boys in all classes with the exception physical education, and free time. At this point I do not feel hiring should change, but think gender bias and traditional thinking should be put aside so that the administration make it it's policy to only hire the most inspirational teacher available to our children. That said, I am open to researching the issue should the citizen and parents of Arlington request that I do so.
The candidates' responses deserve careful consideration from Arlington residents.  Sally Baird states, "I have been a strong advocate for innovative recruiting efforts to attract candidates reflective of our Arlington student body – which, yes, includes gender diversity."  Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy's First Day of School 2010 presentation show no evidence of concern for gender diversity in recruiting teachers.  The Ode Street Tribune hopes that Superintendent Murphy's future statements and actions reflect strong advocacy for gender diversity in recruiting teachers.

Currently in Arlington Public Schools, 52% of the students are non-white.  Only 22% of the teachers (not accounting for the difference between part-time and full-time teachers, which inflates the teacher count by 70%) are non-white.  The share of boys in Arlington Public Schools is 51%, while the share of men teachers apparently is a Arlington Public Schools' secret.  Only 24% of teachers in public schools national-wide are men.  I think it's likely that the share of men teachers in Arlington Public Schools is less than 24%.  Hence Arlington Public Schools' teachers have a much different race and sex composition than do its students.  These large differences matter for the quality of education, broadly understood, that Arlington Public Schools currently provides to its students.

Miriam Gennari's response is more responsive to the questions asked and squarely considers the issue of gender diversity.   She puts forward the innovative idea of having one school community experiment with separate academic classes for boys and girls.  In Anne Arundel County, a proposal for single-sex education apparently is being seriously considered.  Arlington Public Schools might well consider experimentation and change.

For the school board candidates' presentation of their views on a wider range of issues, see Sally Baird's website and Miriam Gennari's website.

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