Why Chicago's Public Schools Are Losing Black Teachers

Why Chicago’s Public Schools Are Losing Black Teachers

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“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.”

Suspicion #3: Black students in Chicago are discouraged from studying education in college.

In 2010, the Illinois State Board of Education increased its cut scores on the basic skills exam, which teachers must pass before they can enroll in a teaching program. The reading cut score jumped from 50% to 85%, and the math cut score went from 35% to 75%. The test was then redesigned in 2012, making it more rigorous by raising the knowledge expectation to an 11th grade level, based on the Common Core State Standards.

Catalyst magazine reported that a round of testing from April 2012 showed that only 28% of African Americans and 33% of Latinos passed the reading subtest, compared to 52% of whites and 48% of Asians. (It’s sobering to see that the K-12 achievement gap is just as pronounced on the college level, even among prospective teachers.)

Still, the original pass rate of 86% was cut in half, impacting prospective teachers across all races, especially African Americans.

I know a black woman in her late 40s who has taught in private preschools for 20 years. This woman can teach 4- and 5-year-olds how to read in her sleep–and she does it with so much joy! Unfortunately, she’ll never be able to teach in CPS. She decided to pursue state certification in early childhood education in 2012, but despite her best efforts, she just could not pass the Common Core-inspired math section. She failed the test five times and is now banned from ever trying again.

Let me be clear: All teachers–regardless of race–must have the intellectual wherewithal to become educators. We want our best and brightest in teaching programs. However, most of the people taking the “basic skills” test are college sophomores (or older), and the implementation of the Common Core predates their entire K-12 education.

Theoretically, this situation should begin to self-correct in the next three years when the Common Core goes through a full high school cycle. It will take that long before the rigorous new teacher test will achieve its goal of helping to improve teacher quality, rather than leave some feeling as if it shuts minority teachers out.

Final Thoughts

CPS has many amazing white teachers who care deeply for their students. Most would agree, though, that it’s vital that the low-income black and brown kids, who make up 87% of district, have strong teachers who look like them, reflecting the best of their heritage and community. This is a powerful form of education all by itself.

Marilyn Rhames has taught in district and charter schools in Chicago for the past 11 years and currently serves as alumni support manager at a K-8 charter school. A former New York City reporter, Rhames’s award-winning education commentary is featured in Education Week and on Moody Radio in Chicago.