Why Are We Losing Black Teachers?

In a recent article in The Washington Post, it was reported that the number of black public school teachers has declined in nine cities across the nation–including in the country’s three largest school districts.

[Related: 7 Reasons Why Kids Drop Out of School]

In a post that BlackEnterprise.com published, Marilyn Rhames, a teacher in the Windy City and a BE Smart guest contributor, examined the phenomenon in Chicago. She wrote of a white principal who desperately wanted to hire a black teacher and attended a teacher fair with that express purpose. But whom did she end up hiring? A white man.

Rhames quotes the principal as saying, “Because so many black students in Chicago are getting a crappy K-12 education,” she explained, “It’s affecting the quality of the teaching pool once some of them become teachers.”

Rhames writes that now that passing scores on the Illinois State Board of Education exam are so much higher than they were formerly, 85% instead of 50%, fewer black teachers are passing.

“Let me be clear,” Rhames writes. “All teachers–regardless of race–must have the intellectual wherewithal to become educators. We want our best and brightest in teaching programs.” Yet she also bemoans the consistent failure of a friend she describes as a skilled teacher who hasn’t passed the state boards.

Is that why we’re losing black teachers across the country? Is it their “crappy K-12 education” catching up with them? Or are there other reasons?

Tough Assignment

The Washington Post reports that black teachers tend to be assigned to struggling, high-poverty schools. Because of the tougher work conditions, they leave the teaching field faster than teachers of other races. The schools they work in are also often slated for turnaround, which tends to usher in a more tightly controlled, rule-based ethos that restricts their autonomy. According to a researcher quoted in the article, these stifling environments also lead black teachers to leave the field.

Here’s the excerpt below.

The number of black public school teachers in nine cities – including the country’s three largest school districts – dropped between 2002 and 2012, raising questions about whether those school systems are doing enough to maintain a diverse teaching corps, according to a new report to be released Wednesday.

The study by the Albert Shanker Institute, a think-tank funded by the American Federation of Teachers, looked at teacher data from nine cities: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The research found that each city saw a drop in the number of black teachers in traditional and charter schools.

The issue of teacher diversity is important because research has suggested that students who are racially paired with teachers – black teachers working with black students and Hispanic teachers working with Hispanic students – do better academically. Teachers of color also can serve as powerful role models for minority students, who are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than white students, and less likely to know other adults who are college graduates.

“Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers federation, who is asking the Obama administration to call a White House summit on teacher diversity. “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.”

Researchers examined the decade between 2002 and 2012 because it was a period of rapid expansion of public charter schools and closures of traditional district schools. There also were other state and federal policy changes, such as the use of teacher evaluation systems, that caused some churn and upheaval in teaching ranks.

The largest drop took place in the District of Columbia, where between 2003 and 2011, the portion of the D.C. teaching force that was white, more than doubled from 16% to 39% while the share of teachers who were black shrank from 77% to 49%.

Read more at The Washington Post.