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Will Black public school students suffer academically because of a dwindling number of Black teachers? It’s a critical question that is being debated in education circles across America. And it’s got my attention. As more African-Americans students and other pupils of color are packing the nation’s classrooms, public schools are becoming more segregated and minority teachers, who serve as positive role models for Black students, are increasingly quitting their teaching jobs and pursuing other professions

A new study released Wednesday by The Albert Shanker Institute, and sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, (AFT) underscores this troubling fact: More than 60 years after the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was handed down, its promise remains un­fulfilled. In many respects, America’s public schools continue to be “separate and unequal.”

The study shows “the grow­ing re-segregation of American schools by race and ethnicity, compounded by economic class segregation, has become the dominant trend in American education.” It’s a provocative issue that has concerned Black and Hispanic parents for years, with many parents saying their students need positive role models from teachers of color – teachers who look like their students and reflect the racial composition of America.

There is some legitimacy to this notion, but sadly, many teachers of color are leaving the classrooms for higher paying jobs and many Black and Brown students are being taught for years without any interaction whatsoever from Black or Latino teachers. “There is growing evidence that all students—and our democracy at large—would benefit from a teaching force that reflects the full diversity of the U.S. population,” according to the study.

This is not to say that white teachers can’t offer minority students the quality education they need and deserve. But the balance among Black and white teachers is shifting and many studies show that students of color respond better academically to teachers of color—teachers who understand the students’ cultural background.

Specifically, here’s what the AFT research found:

  • – Minority teachers can be more motivated to work with disadvantaged minority students in high-pov­erty, racially and ethnically segregated schools, a factor which may help to reduce rates of teacher attrition in hard-to-staff schools.
  • – Minority teachers tend to have higher academic expectations for minority students, which can result in increased academic and social growth among students.
  • – Minority students profit from having among their teachers individuals from their own racial and eth­nic group who can serve as academically successful role models and who can have greater knowledge of their heritage culture.
  • – Positive exposure to individuals from a variety of races and ethnic groups, especially in childhood, can help to reduce stereotypes, attenuate unconscious implicit biases and help promote cross-cultural social bonding.
  • The nine cities studied in this report—Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.—followed the national patterns of teacher di­versity.

“As a general rule, minority teachers—especially minority male teach­ers—are underrepresented in these urban workforces, with substantial representation gaps between minority teachers and minority students,” the study said. “In every one of the nine cities studied, the Black share of the teacher workforce declined.”

“It has been argued that teachers of color can help fill this gap for minority students by bolstering their confidence and motivation, and alleviating their sense of marginalization,’ the study said.

The AFT study also comes as a recent report shows that America’s teachers and administrators frequently address behavioral problems with students strictly along racial lines.

The study, which was recently released by the journal Sociology of Education, shows that African-American students with behavioral problems are far more likely to be punished with expulsions, suspensions — and sometimes even arrested and forced into the criminal justice system — while white students are routinely steered into special education programs and treated for learning disabilities when they behave badly.

Black educators and parents say the study confirms their beliefs. For years, civil rights activists have argued that a racially biased culture in the nation’s school system has worked against black students but some of their complaints have been routinely dismissed.

But the new study by the AFT is a welcomed document that seems to prove that Black students could fare much better academically and socially with compassionate teachers of color who understand – and who have lived – the Black experience.

What do you think?

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