Massachusetts Teachers’ Unions Lining Up Against Bill That Would Insert Race Into Layoff Decisions

At issue is a bill currently before the Massachusetts state legislature that would chip away at one of the teachers’ unions most guarded perks — tenure.

Arthur Krijgsman/

America’s teachers unions have been all-aboard the diversity bandwagon for some time now, but recent developments in Massachusetts have many white union members telling their bosses to put the brakes on race-based decision-making because it threatens their own jobs.

At issue is a bill currently before the Massachusetts state legislature that would chip away at one of the teachers’ unions most guarded perks — tenure. The bill, touted as an effort to increase the diversity of the state’s public school teachers, would give superintendents and principals greater leeway to protect newer teachers of color in the event of layoffs.

Current state law in Massachusetts requires administrators to fire newer teachers — those without the “professional status” that comes after three years of service — before more senior teachers when job cuts are required.

Teachers unions in the state are having none of it, and have lined up in opposition to the legislation, according to the Boston Globe. They blame school administrators for not taking more aggressive action earlier to increase the number of teachers of color.

“Saying that the best way to increase educator diversity is by reducing the job security of all educators and by subjecting them to further potential bias in cases of potential dismissal, termination, or layoff presents a false choice,” the president of the Boston Teachers Union, Jessica Tang, said in a statement.

The Globe report says about 10 percent of the state’s 79,000 public school teachers during the 2021-22 school year identify as racial minorities, an increase of about 2 percent since the 2016-17 school year. Students of color make up about 45 percent of the more than 900,000 students enrolled in Massachusetts public schools.

Both the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts are instead pushing for a different bill that wouldn’t touch the rules regarding seniority during layoffs but would instead address what they called “systemic” issues preventing teachers of color from gaining footholds in the state.

The union-supported bill, the Educator Diversity Act, would create alternative paths toward teacher certification — teachers of color are said to fail the state’s certification tests at a higher rate than their white counterparts — and mandate anti-bias training in the school districts. The bill would also throw more money at educator diversity initiatives. 

The legislation opposed by the teachers union is being pushed by a national group called Educators for Excellence and New York-based TNTP, a nonprofit focused on education issues. In a report released in February, the groups said diversity among educators would decrease if layoffs continue to be made based on seniority. The group’s report said teachers of color are 107 percent more likely to be in their first or second year of work in Massachusetts, the highest rate in the nation.

While many Massachusetts schools are still flush with federal Covid relief cash and are not considering layoffs, cracks are beginning to show in that financial foundation as more and more parents still fed up from Covid-era school closures choose to home-school their kids or seek alternative private and parochial schools.

Districts in Newton and Marblehead are said to considering layoffs, the Globe reports, and Boston’s public schools are bracing for layoffs that might accompany declining public school enrollment there. Boston’s schools have seen a decline of some 8,000 students over the past decade.

The debate in Massachusetts is the mirror image one that popped up in Minnesota last year. In that state, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers kicked up a firestorm by inserting language into its contracts with school districts mandating that white teachers be laid off before teachers of color regardless of seniority. The union held up the measure as a “national model” for boosting the number of teachers of color.

The New York Sun

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