There has been a plethora of studies regarding the achievement gap and graduation gap over the last hundred years. Many educators and lawmakers have proposed thousands of solutions to the problem. The most effective way to close the achievement gap and graduation gap is to hire more teachers of color.
A recent study by Dr. Constance Lindsay and her colleagues at John Hopkins University says that black students who receive one black teacher in their elementary grades, are 39% less likely to drop out of school and are 19% more likely to go to college. This study should serve as a wakeup call to everyone in education on the importance of students seeing someone in the classroom who looks like them and who appreciates the many wonderful gifts they have to offer.
Last December, I attended the Democratic Debate on educational policy in Pittsburgh, PA. Every Presidential candidate, including President Elect Joe Biden, acknowledged that we needed more teachers of color in the classroom to help all children. Each also pledged more funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) and other minority serving institutions to increase the number of teachers of color in the classroom. This is great news because all minority serving institutions have been underfunded for years and most HBCU’s were founded as teacher colleges. However, it is not solely the job of minorities to fix a problem caused by white supremacy. There needs to be a full comprehensive plan that addresses the root causes resulting in the lack of black teachers and other teachers of color.
Step one in a plan to increase the number of teachers of color is to create better experiences for students of color in the classroom. The biggest area of shortage is black/brown teachers of color. It’s no coincidence that these are the students who have the worst experiences in our classrooms. No person wants to return to the scene of their trauma as a career field. If education want to address this issue, they must increase Title II funding for teacher professional development. The extra funding must require that 15% be used on professional development for culturally responsive pedagogy, anti-racist curriculums, recognizing implicit and explicit bias, and restorative discipline practices that create better experiences for students of color in the classroom. Teaching should be seen as an admirable profession and not a trigger for childhood trauma.
Secondly, we must retain current teachers of color. There is a mass exodus of teachers of color due to the “invisible tax”. A tax placed on them by the educational system. According to former Secretary of Education John King, the “invisible tax” is paid when teachers of color have to act as disciplinarians and cultural experts, while preparing students of color for racism in and out of school We can recruit thousands of new teachers but if we are not keeping the current ones in the classroom, then we are filling a bucket with a gigantic hole in the bottom. School districts and education officials can create conferences, professional developments, and safe spaces for teachers of color that help alleviate the invisible tax that leads to teacher burnout. These programs should be funded through the mandatory 15% of Title II funding.
Thirdly, there are culturally biased and inequitable policies in place that keep teachers of color from entering the field of education. We need to establish a national commission on education cultural equity. This committee should include a diverse array of students, teachers, parents, education advocates, educator prep programs. They will partner with representatives from local and state education agencies. Collaboratively, they will study and provide a list of recommendations that help eliminate systematic barriers that keep teachers of color from entering the classroom. This report should serve as a guide for all local, state, and federal plans and policies to increase cultural diversity in the teacher workforce.
Next, we must create and invest in teacher prep programs like Teachers for Tomorrow and Educators Rising. These programs should be present in high schools that have predominantly minority populations. Students who complete these programs will be given scholarships to complete a teacher training program at state funded universities. An increase in Title I and Title II funding would provide extra resources to fund these initiatives. Creating teacher training programs in these high schools and offering college scholarships to students who complete them would be extremely beneficial. We also need to live up to the promise of loan forgiveness programs for teachers once they have completed teacher training programs.
Lastly, we must create an accreditation system that holds colleges and universities accountable for culturally relevant teaching in their education programs. Most teacher ed prep programs are run by white professors and the majority of classes are taught from a colonized point of view. Most pedagogical practices are outdated and culturally biased. A lot of Black and Brown students are traumatized by most teacher ed prep programs to the point where they switch career paths. We must ensure that students in education programs have safe spaces, professors that empower them and curriculums promote antiracist and abolitionist teaching.
Budgets dictate priorities for a nation. If we truly care about students of color and their educational outcomes, then we must invest in a comprehensive plan to get more teachers of color in the classroom. I implore all policy makers, legislators, and educational leaders, to make this a priority if they look to close the achievement gap because all children deserve a high-quality education.