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Black teachers are leaving Allegheny County. A new study examines why.

Pittsburgh Perry High School
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
At Pittsburgh Perry High School, 14% of teachers during the 2022-2023 school year were Black, compared to 78% of students.

Black teachers in Allegheny County are facing heavier workloads, feelings of isolation and racial microaggressions from their peers — all factors that could help explain why the number of Black teachers in the county is sharply declining.

With the number of Black teachers in the county having dropped by 10% over the past decade, a recent study of local Black teachers from Research for Action (RFA) examines the reasons they might have left their schools or the profession altogether.

Among the common challenges the 38 current and former teachers interviewed for the study cited was the feeling that they're expected to take on more than their white peers and other teachers in their school.

“And a lot of that is around disciplining students,” said Siettah Parks, project director for the study.

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Allegheny County is not alone in grappling with this issue. A Penn State study earlier this year found Black teachers across the Commonwealth were more than twice as likely to leave the profession as their white peers after the 2021-2022 school year.

In Pittsburgh, the rate by which Black teachers left city schools between 2013 and 2021 outpaced overall Black population loss. Meanwhile, in the rest of Allegheny County, the Black population increased by close to 8% — though the number of Black teachers there dropped by nearly the same amount.

Like many teachers around the country, Black teachers in the region also cite a lack of support from administrators, inadequate pay and issues with district policies and mandates.

“The decline of Black teachers in Allegheny County has been going on well before the pandemic,” said Mary Eddins, a policy associate at RFA.

Teachers interviewed for the study came from every grade level and multiple subjects, including core subjects like English and math, as well as electives and technical education.

Researchers say the bulk of participants came from Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), where 11% of teachers are Black. PPS employs over half of the county’s Black teachers, although its workforce is still far less diverse than the district’s student population.

In many districts across the county, Black teachers may be one among only a handful of peers or the only Black teacher in their school. 119 schools, as well as eight entire districts in the county, had zero teachers of color on staff.

“I’ve been told, ‘You can just go be a token Black teacher in a different district,’” one participant told researchers.

Despite those challenges, the study highlighted that Black teachers who stay are leading efforts to give their students culturally relevant lessons and less punitive forms of discipline.

“A lot of folks wanted to be there for the students — and for Black students specifically — to make sure that they felt supported and to make sure that they saw Black teachers during their time in Allegheny County schools,” Parks said.

Love for their students was among the sustaining factors teachers in the study cited as to why they decided to remain in their jobs, along with strong school leaders and supportive and affirming networks.

Researchers said increasing the number of Black teachers in the county’s schools will require leaders to address systemic racism in the classroom and remove barriers to entering the profession.

They recommend that state and school leaders conduct audits of hiring practices, and revise them to ensure that Black candidates aren’t blocked out.

The study also suggests districts create programs for paraprofessionals to advance into teaching positions, as well as affinity spaces where Black teachers can connect with one another, both within the county and beyond.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.