An AP story today laments: “U.S. teachers are nowhere near as diverse as their students,” and says liberal groups “want more to be done to help teachers mirror more accurately the students in their classrooms.” Those groups say that minority students do better if they have a teacher “who looks just like them” and — rather contradictorily — that white students benefit by “engaging with people who think, talk, and act differently than them” (uh, stereotype much?). But, the article concludes, it “will take political will” and better “programs and policies” designed “to increase the number of minority teachers.”
But recruiting and hiring with an eye on race and ethnicity is not only bad policy: It breaks the law. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to weigh race in employment decisions, and this includes hiring teachers. What’s more, for public employment, the U.S. Constitution likewise makes it presumptively illegal to make decisions on the basis of race.
The federal courts have never recognized a “diversity” exception for Title VII. And in a 1986 constitutional case (Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education), the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly rejected the “role model” justification in the employment context for teachers. A decade before that, in Hazelwood School District v. United States, the court had similarly noted that a school district could not point to the racial makeup of its student body as a justification for the racial makeup of its faculty.
This is not only the law. It also makes perfect sense. As Justice Lewis Powell wrote in Wygant, “Carried to its logical extreme, the idea that black students are better off with black teachers could lead to the very system the court rejected in Brown v. Board of Education.” There is no reason why students cannot have as role models people who do not share their skin color.
Schools should, in any event, hire the best-qualified individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity. Anything less is a disservice to the students and the community, aside from being unfair to the applicants.