Sun editorial:

District would benefit from more diversity in administration

In enriching the diversity of their administrations, school districts face a challenge but also can offer a remarkable incentive in recruiting minorities for leadership positions.

Those are among the conclusions of a new report from the Brookings Institution, which looks at the diversity gap between administrators and the students in their care.

The bad news is that the gap is significant.

But the authors, Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero, offered reason for optimism in that schools offer significantly stronger leadership opportunities to minorities than other industries. By focusing on that strength, Hansen and Quintero say, schools could attract more minority candidates.

More on that in a moment, but first here’s a look at the work that needs to be done in terms of diversification.

The authors found that whites hold 75.1 percent of principal positions and other administrative jobs even though just 50.3 percent of population is Caucasian. Meanwhile, only 8.6 percent of administrators are Latino, compared with 25.2 percent of the student population. For African-Americans, the ratio is much more balanced: 12.9 percent of administrators and 14.4 percent of students.

That’s significant for a number of reasons, Hansen and Quintero say.

“Administrators of color bring a number of unique strengths: More frequent exposure to people of color in authoritative positions can replace stereotyping and unconscious biases with acceptance and trust; leaders of color have a distinct advantage when interacting with community members (who) share their racial or ethnic background; and finally, leaders of color can contribute nuance and perspective for academic programs targeting students of color,” Hansen and Quintero wrote.

From a national standpoint, then, it’s crucial that districts beef up their efforts to bring minorities into administrative positions. That’s also the case in Southern Nevada, which has recognized that need and has launched recruiting and mentorship initiatives in order to address it. 

Hansen and Quintero say the struggles with diversifying administrations lie largely in a broader challenge to recruit minority teachers. That makes sense, because administrators often come from the teaching ranks.

To help meet that challenge, the report examines demographics of leaders in several industries to show why schools can — and should — accentuate their leadership opportunities for minorities in their recruiting efforts.

The authors based that outcome on three similar industries — health care, social services and postsecondary education. They chose those fields because, like K-12 education, they require a bachelor’s degree and an occupational license, and are oriented toward public service.

For both black and Hispanic men and women, the ratio of leaders was higher in K-12 than in the similar professions.

“We interpret these data as pointing to strong career opportunities for black and Hispanic individuals in public education,” the report reads. “Yet, to our knowledge, opportunities for career advancement are not part of the recruitment strategies to attract more nonwhite teachers to the profession.”

Changing the message would help in two ways, Hansen and Quintero say. First, if teaching were promoted as a first step in a career with good leadership potential, it might help attract more minorities. Second, when minorities advance into leadership positions, their influence is multiplied as they gain authority over hiring and staffing decisions. That, in turn, can help schools attract and retain people of color.

The report, which is part of a five-part series examining diversity in schools, is available at brookings.edu. For school board members and administrators involved in hiring and recruiting, it should be required reading.