Black teachers matter: Here are some of the reasons why we need more

The shift happened in the fall of 2014 – the collective majority (50.3 percent and growing) of students enrolled in our nation’s public schools are the “minority” students of color and American Indian students. Yet the latest data show that our nation’s teaching workforce is not keeping up with the changing demographics of the students. In fact, teachers of color and American Indian teachers as a whole leave the profession at a much higher rate than their white counterparts.

This is of grave concern, since the research has become increasingly clear that teachers of color and American Indian teachers benefit, and I would argue, are necessary for, all students to thrive in a multicultural and pluralistic society.

So how does Minnesota stack up against the national data?

National ALL % White % Hispanic % Black % API % American Indian
Students 50.3M 49.5 25 16 5 1
Teachers 3.8M 80 8.8 6.7 2.5 0.4

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, US Department of Education

MN ALL % White % Hispanic % Black % API % American Indian
Students 849K 69 9 12 7 2
Teachers 60K 95.58 1.05 1.15 1.62 0.41

Source: 2017 Teacher Supply Demand Report, MN Department of Education

Well, not good. Our student body has become more diverse in the last 10 years (from 22 percent to now 30 percent students of color/American Indian students), while our teaching workforce remains predominantly white at 95-96 percent over that same time period.

In recent years, Minnesota has become known for these less-than-flattering realities. For example, the shameful and persistent racial disparities in educational attainment, in employment, in housing, etc. You name it, we have the gap. In addition, systematic racism inflicted on and the historical trauma endured by our communities of color and American Indian communities are playing out recently in our own backyard in the form of violence against our young black men. The unjust death of Philando Castile forever left a hole in my heart.

Then I came across a recent ground breaking research study on “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers”, published by Institute of Labor Economics in 2017. According to the researchers and economists on this study, the “Role Model Effect” with teacher-student demographic match has been shown previously to have a positive impact on short-run, immediate outcomes such as test scores, attendance, and suspensions. However, the sustained, long-run impacts had not been studied until now. This study analyzed large sets of student data from two different states, North Carolina and Tennessee, and the findings are very encouraging.

Basically, low-income black boys will have a 39 percent less chance of dropping out of high school and are 29 percent more likely to be interested in attending college if they have ONE black teacher between third and fifth grade. ONE within three years. WOW. And what teacher behavior is producing these effects? One of the researchers is speculating teacher expectations. Another recent study shows that a teacher of the same race as a student has higher expectations and judgment of the student’s abilities.

So many questions about the findings run through my mind. Could the significant effects extend to any three elementary grades? Or to other low-income boys of color and American Indian boys? Could there be “proxies” to black teachers that could produce similar impact – black paraprofessionals, black mentors? Does this mean for a low-income black boy, his chance of school success could hinge on one black teacher between third an fifth grades out of say 40 to 50 teachers in all 12 grades?

So many thoughts and ideas for potential action forward run through my mind:

  1. The researchers recommend “a straightforward policy lever” to assign black male students to black teachers in a school or a district.

A. Analyze where the low-income black male third to fifth graders are and where the black teachers are (if any).

B. Creatively make sure low-income black boys get face time with ONE black teacher from third to fifth grades.

C. Provide intentional support for the black teachers already in the district so they stay and continue their lasting imprint on black students.

D. Develop target plan to attract and retain black elementary teachers to specific schools/districts with specific assignments to low-income elementary black students.

 

  1. We must elevate the teaching profession and for all stakeholders, but especially our black families and communities, to understand the “role model effect” and its significant long term impact on high school graduation and aspiration to college starting in the elementary grades. We need to collectively encourage teaching, particularly in our black communities, as a way to reverse the negative imprint they have historically experienced in schools.

 

  1. We must create targeted pathways (traditional and alternative) for many black paraprofessionals and professional career changers to become effective teachers economically and efficiently. These pathways must include strong preparation, induction and retention approaches that are grounded in cultural responsiveness and relevance.

 

  1. We must explore successful models from other states that have very intentional programs to attract, prepare and retain black teachers. What efforts do we know are happening in Minnesota? How can we collaborate and leverage resources to act together towards collective accountability and impact?

 

And I am sure there are many more potential strategies to consider.

Preliminary analysis from the Teacher Supply Demand Report (MDE, 2017) shows that statewide there is on average 1 black teacher to 150 black students. In some economic regions, there are no black teachers for over 700 black students or only 1 for over 1000 black students!  Statewide, the average ratio of same-race teacher to students is the worst for black students than any other groups: Hispanic students (1:117), American Indian students (1:82), Asian Pacific students (1:65) and white students (1:10).

It is simply daunting to consider what it would take to have the teaching corp reflects student demographics even for the black student group alone. Fortunately, the research study on the impact of ONE black teacher on low-income elementary black boys offers a much needed ray of hope.  Perhaps it is not only about attempting to achieve parity (that we should have 12% black teachers because we have 12% black students in the state), but also about strategically ensuring that the black students who are most impacted by a black teacher will have that opportunity at the most appropriate time.

Additionally, such a perspective together with the above strategies discussed (and others) would likely illuminate new and different insights along the way to redefine a whole new policy frame at both the local and state levels to attract, prepare and retain black teachers in Minnesota. More importantly, we might finally close the chronic black-white disparities in high school and college success.

Perhaps the yet-to-be-imagined policy frame also affect and close other racial disparities in education that exist? Let’s work together to realize this dream. We can do this. We must do this.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Our Voices, Teachers of Color

Rose Chu View posts by Rose Chu

Dr. Rose Wan-Mui Chu is a Senior Policy Fellow for MnEEP, leading efforts to advance the TeachMN2020 Campaign as part of the BBG3 where “Minnesota educators reflect student demographics.” She has an enduring involvement with unrepresented communities of color and a passion for social justice.
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