By Denisa Superville and Madeline Will
Many school districts talk a big game about increasing staff diversity, but one Oregon school district is making it crystal clear in job postings that it really, really wants minority and underrepresented groups to work there.
A recent advertisement for a 4th and 5th grade elementary teacher in the North Clackamas school district, which is less than 10 miles south of Portland, Ore., made the plea explicit by encouraging candidates who do not think they meet all of the qualifications for the job to apply anyway, or call the district’s human resources department to discuss their application.
“Studies have shown that women and people of color are less likely to apply for jobs unless they believe they meet every one of the qualifications as described in a job description,” the ad read. “We are most interested in finding the best candidate for the job, and that candidate may be one who comes from a less traditional background. We would encourage you to apply, even if you don’t believe you meet every one of our qualifications described.”
The job listing was posted on Twitter and quickly generated buzz among educators, many of whom applauded the effort.
I have never seen that in my 21 years in education. Thank you for sharing. I’d like to see that message pervade the culture of school districts.
-- Laura Cahill (@engageducate) July 20, 2019
I’ve never seen this in an edu job posting, but I *have* in the tech/entrepreneurial world. I think it’s great. Shows they value the whole person-and the innovation, creativity, and out-of-box thinking they might bring to the classroom! 👊
-- Rachel Marker (@rachelmarker) July 21, 2019
Mark Moser, the executive director of human resources at the North Clackamas school district, said the district started adding the explicit language on diversity to a few open positions about a week ago, as part of a larger effort to encourage candidates from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds to apply. In the future, it will be added to job postings for every district vacancy, from janitor to principal, as well as posted on the district’s employment page, he said.
The language in the ad is unusual in its bluntness, said Elizabeth Combs, the managing director of the Frontline Research and Learning Institute, which has surveyed nearly 600 school and district hiring managers.
“I really think it’s part of a larger shift that we’re starting to see as school districts start to think about their hiring and talent in general much more strategically,” Combs said.
Historically, she said, school districts would put out a call for, say, a 3rd grade teacher, and list general qualifications—experience, education level, and certifications. The institute’s past research has shown that hiring managers prefer candidates who are recommended by word of mouth and who are a good “cultural fit.”
The researchers from the institute, which is a division of Frontline Education, a K-12 software company, were concerned that those hiring practices can hinder teacher diversity. Cultural fit is a nebulous term with no common definition, and experts have said making that a priority during hiring could contribute to a lack of diversity, since people gravitate toward—and tend to recommend—others with backgrounds similar to their own.
“I think what we’re seeing now ... is that people are really thinking a lot more carefully about who they’re trying to attract and diversifying that candidate pool,” Combs said. “Districts are starting to think beyond their normal recruiting processes.”
Addressing the Diversity Gap
While the majority of students in the nation’s public schools are students of color, the workforce has remained predominantly white and female. Nonwhite teachers make up about 20 percent of the teaching corps.
And despite research showing the academic and social-emotional advantages of having a same-race teacher on black students, only about 7 percent of teachers are black. According to a 2018 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, a black student who had one black teacher by the 3rd grade was 13 percent more likely to enroll in college. Black students who had two black teachers by that time were 32 percent more likely to do so, according to the study.
In the 2018-19 school year, slightly more than a quarter—about 27.7 percent—of North Clackamas’ students were students of color, while only 13.1 percent of the staff were people of color.
About 10 percent of the teaching staff is made up of teachers of color. The district has a more racially diverse administrative pool, in which about 20 percent of the workers are people of color, Moser said.
“We are always looking for ways, in this district, to try to diversify our workforce—to try to match better the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of our students with our teaching staff, primarily, but also our administrators and classified staff,” Moser said.
Moser said that the district’s efforts are rooted in studies showing that teachers and administrators of color can lead to improved academic student outcomes, “not just for those that are students of color, but also our white students.”
“We know that,” he said. “That’s kind of the goal for this effort and other efforts.”
Will It Work?
Moser said it’s too early to tell if the new approach will make a difference. So far, he said, he’s had no inquiries prompted by the change in the language. It could be a year before the district has hard data on whether altering the language in the job postings had an impact on the applicant pool and eventual hires. Most certified postings are advertised in the spring (March/April), which means that it will be a while before the district has any comparable data, he said.
The idea to include the blunt language on hiring came from a teacher who is on special assignment in the district. He suggested that the district use language similar to that used by the Oregon Department of Education, which also makes an explicit nod to diversity in some of its job postings. In a posting for an accessibility remediation coordinator, which was first advertised on July 12, the department added this note:
“The Department strives to create an inclusive environment that welcomes and values the diversity of the people we serve. We foster fairness, equity, and inclusion to create a workplace environment where everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
Studies have shown that women and people of color are less likely to apply for jobs unless they meet every one of the qualifications listed. We are most interested in finding the best candidate for the job, and that candidate may be one who comes from a less traditional background. We would encourage you to apply, even if you don’t meet every one of our qualifications listed. If you are unsure whether you meet the qualifications of this position, please feel free to contact us to discuss your application.”
A spokesperson for the Oregon education department said the agency started using the addendum about six weeks ago and actually borrowed the idea from the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, which has had some success using similar language.
Endi Hartigan, a spokesperson for the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, said the agency adopted the language in March 2018, as part of its commitment to equal opportunity employment and its affirmative action goals. The approach was informed by the state’s Equity Lens, a policy tool the state uses to shape action and discussion around achievement and opportunity gaps. Education Week wrote about Oregon’s Equity Lens in 2016.
While the agency did not have hard data on whether the explicit language on diversity had resulted in the hiring of more candidates from diverse backgrounds, Hartigan said: “We have seen numerous instances in which strong applicants shared in the application or interview process that they would not have applied were it not for this language, and some of these candidates were hired.”
“We have also improved other aspects of equitable practices in our hiring, such as strengthening the interview questions related to equity and implementing evaluation of written materials with names removed, when possible,” she continued. “While we do not yet have quantitative data available about the changes during this period in our diversity hiring, it appears that these practices are bringing strong and diverse candidates to our pools.”
North Clackamas worked with its attorney to ensure that the ad did not suggest that the district was seeking to hire candidates based on their race, for example, which would be discriminatory.
Moser said he wanted the district’s ad to be clear that applicants will still have to meet minimum qualifications for the position, but those qualifications may look different based on a person’s cultural or linguistic background and other factors.
The district is “trying to be a little flexible in how we view people coming in the door with whatever those minimal qualifications would be, given the range of jobs we post,” Moser said. “I’m not sure what that would look like. ... It’s kind of a commitment that we’re going to try to be flexible with what people bring in the door and how we view minimal qualifications.”
“Will the results show up in the numbers, in our applicant pool diversifying? I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think there is any one thing that’s going to change those numbers. It’s a lot of effort, in a lot of different ways, that, hopefully, collectively, will help.”
Image via Getty
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.