Is a dropping percentage of African-American teachers in urban areas contributing to THE DREADED ACHIEVEMENT GAP?
An article in the Philadelphia Daily News (posted at Norms Notes) states:
The percentage of African-American teachers is declining, and now stands at its lowest point in decades.Now, I'm always suspicious when I see the words "a growing body of research" without citing the actual study, as is the want for so many ideologues who talk about "studies" that debunk the benefits of low class size or how teacher quality is the most factor (without defining what the words "teacher quality" mean) or the 45 teachers used in a "major" study that claiming that Teach For America teachers outperform other teachers.
And students are suffering as a result, a growing body of research shows. One national organization found that increasing the percentage of black teachers is directly related to closing the so-called achievement gap - students of color lagging behind white peers.
However, this throws an intriguing element on the table when the EEP Klein/Sharpton acolytes talk about the AG being "the civil rights issue of our time." Sure. Let's have a civil rights movement in education, but leave African-American teachers behind. Hmmm. Do we need a federal No African-American Teacher Left Behind? Let's see: NAATLB. Not bad. Just trying saying it 10 times real fast.
Teachers in NYC, led by my Independent Community of Educators colleague Sean Ahern, have been harping on this issue for years. Sean talks about the "whitening of the teacher staff." In NYC where numerous Teach for America recruits have entered the school system, it was pointed out to me the other day that TFA does not recruit at the City University of New York, where they might actually tap into a source of many students of color.
In fact, due to Sean and some other ICE'ers, ICE will be discussing the issue at this Friday's meeting (see the ICE blog for details if you want to come down and jump in.) Ed Notes has reported on the dramatic drop in the percentage of new hires of African-Americans (from 28% to 15%) in the BloomKlein years (here, here and the black educator blog.)
I support the concept of diversified teaching staffs. All kids should be exposed to teachers of different backgrounds. White kids should have enough black teachers so they don't come to see the world in a narrow framework. African-American kids should not see only white teachers. But does such exposure make a major difference academically?
I have never bought into the idea that having teachers of the same race has an enormous impact. My school had many African-American teachers and there did not seem to be much of a difference in terms of student performance, behavior, etc. Some were great teachers. Some not so great. About the same ratios as Hispanic and white teachers. But that was a very small sample.
There were entire districts (16 for instance in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn) that under community control from 1968-2002 hired enormous numbers of Black teachers, to the extent that there were whispers that white teachers were not welcome in some schools. While there are many factors involved, the performance of students in District 16 was generally abysmal. And friends who taught in District 16 reported the same kinds of impact I saw in my school.
On a larger stage, while I don't have any figures, the Washington DC school system supposedly has a majority of black teachers and has been lambasted for poor performance. That adds an interesting (and surprisingly unreported) backdrop to the current attack on DC teachers and their union by Michelle Rhee and Mayor Fenty, who is black. Is there an undercurrent of an attack on civil rights going on - for teachers?
I'm open to hearing all points of view on this issue. Expect a spirited debate at the ICE meeting tomorrow. I think I'll wear a helmet.