Virginia's largest school system is far more likely to hire a white teacher applicant than an African-American, according to a study by professors at George Mason University.
The study, published in the Harvard Educational Review, found that black teachers made up 13 percent of all teacher applicants to the school system, but only 6 percent of all job offers. White applicants, on the other hand, made up 70 percent of applicants but received 77 percent of all job offers.
The study focused on a single school district, and the school system was not explicitly identified in the study. But the school system's size and demographics are spelled out in the study, and Fairfax county is the only system in the country that fits the profile.
The school system is the tenth largest in the U.S., and serves more than 188,000 students.
Fairfax County Public Schools issued a statement to The Associated Press saying it was not provided an opportunity to review the study "and we cannot confirm the validity of the conclusions."
The study's author, though, said she did share the findings with the district in question and said officials there indicated interest in the results.
It is not the first time that the school's teacher-hiring practices have come under question for discrimination. In 2014, a group of teachers sued the school system and Bailey's elementary Principal Marie Lemmon for racial, sexual, and religious discrimination. The teachers alleged, among other allegations, that Lemmon made multiple comments that pretty people made better teachers, and that she would only hire "pretty, young, blue-eyed blondes."
A federal judge rejected the school system's effort to have the lawsuit tossed out. In 2015, the teachers withdrew the lawsuit, and school system officials declined to answer questions about whether a financial settlement had been reached. The school system issued a statement defending Lemmon and her "outstanding leadership" at the school.
The GMU study found that there was no indication that black teacher applicants were any less qualified than white applicants. On the contrary, it found that the black applicant pool had more experience and was more likely to hold an advanced degree. It did find that black applicants received lower scores than whites in an online interview process called TeacherInsight.
The authors concluded that the findings are evidence of discrimination.
"In this district, Black applicants, though having many attributes similar to their White counterparts, encountered a significantly lower likelihood of being offered a job, replicating discriminatory employment patterns documented across a range of industries," the authors wrote.
Indeed, the lead author, Diana D'Amico, said that when the results came in, they sliced and worked the numbers in a variety of ways to try and find a nondiscriminatory explanation for the discrepancy. They did not find one.
"The stories we've been told, that maybe black teacher applicants are not of the same quality, don't seem to hold up," she said.
The study found that Asian and Hispanic teachers received neither an advantage nor a disadvantage in hiring.
While there have been many studies about the number of black teachers in the schools, D'Amico said there is a very little research that looks at the pool of job applicants, because that data is not as readily available. Indeed, the district provided its data to D'Amico's team only after it received assurances it would not be identified in the study.
D'Amico said more research is needed to see if other districts across the nation have similar practices.
Kevin Hickerson, president of the Fairfax Education Association, said the teachers' union is committed to the principle that the teacher workforce should reflect the diversity in the student population.
The school system says that, as of 2016, 7 percent of its teachers are black. Ten percent of students in the system are African-American.