Why black teachers are leaving urban schools

What's behind the drop off in African American teachers? The answer is more complicated than you may think.

Andrew Harnik/AP Photo/File
President Barack Obama speaks to business leaders at the quarterly meeting of the Business Roundtable in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, to renew his calls for increased spending in infrastructure, education and scientific research.

While the percentage of minority teachers has risen in the US, the number of black teachers has declined between 2002 and 20012 in nine cities, according to a recent study by the Albert Shanker Institute.

What does this mean not only for the communities in which these schools exist, but for the nation as a whole?

“Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Washington Post. “Where there’s a diverse teaching workforce, all kids thrive. That’s why we note with alarm the sharp decline in the population of black teachers in our cities.”

There are several factors which may be behind this decline. The first is low pay for teachers. According to a study by Young Invincibles, an advocacy group, the average starting salary for a teacher is $34,575 – or about $6,000 less than the average starting salary of 28 professions.

The second is the recurring emphasis that education policy tends to place on test scores. This rigidity, argues Nekita Lamour, a Haitian-American and tenured educator, disincentivises black and Hispanic educators from participating in the system: they are not being encouraged to teach their fellow man, but to the test, instead.

The Shanker Institute’s study found that over a ten-year period, from 2002 to 2012 (a period marked by an explosion in the development of charter schools, and an accompanying dialogue about education reform), the population of black teachers declined by as much as 62 percent in the cities studied (although in the case of New Orleans, many black teachers were fired).  

“Minority teachers quit because of working conditions in their schools,” Richard Ingersoll, an expert who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, also told the Washington Post. “In surveys, those teachers cite lack of autonomy and input into school decisions [in large urban schools].”

There is also evidence that suggests black and Hispanic teachers are crucial to an effective school system, especially to minority-majority districts: not only do they serve as a role model to young kids who may not be acquainted with many college-educated adults, they also have what the study terms “heritage knowledge,” or an ingrained understanding of the culture in which they operate because they are from it. This so-called “heritage knowledge” can lessen the barrier of educational accessibility for minority students, because they are being taught by adults who are from their own backgrounds.  

As the Shanker Institute study notes, the issue has not been recruiting these teachers, but retaining them. In July 2012, President Barack Obama created the White House Executive Order on Educational Excellence for African-Americans, designed to "improve the recruitment, preparation, development, and retention of successful African-American teachers."

This executive order proposed reforms that would "[support] efforts to increase the number of African American teachers and administrators, specifically the number of African American males in the profession" and "[strengthen] relationships between schools and communities," including local businesses. Liberal news outlets such as the Huffington Post have noted that as part of Mr. Obama's overall education plan, his focus on helping minority-majority neighborhoods succeed is a critical one, while The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, views Obama's proposals with concern, as they feel that the Department of Education's budget has too big.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why black teachers are leaving urban schools
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2015/0919/Why-black-teachers-are-leaving-urban-schools
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe