In the past, I've used up plenty of letters blasting Arne Duncan's blather in his serious of Ask Arne videos, so it's only fair that I provide coverage of one that is not completely dopey. The department has learned their lesson and disabled youtube comments on their Arne video, but I can still take a whack at it here.
For the topic of Teacher Diversity, Arne sits down for a pretend interview with Joiselle Cunningham, a 2013 teaching fellow, and David Johns, Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Johns loses points for using "impactful" in a sentence, but he gets points back for the nifty phrase "to conspire for their success."
Most of the discussion is fairly straightforward and blather-free. Arne makes note of the fact that our diversity numbers are hugely out of whack-- the US teacher workforce is composed primarily of white women. Arne connects this to his time running Chicago schools, where entire buildings contained not a single man of color, and also notes that a large number of African-American homes are single mom homes. Johns also shares a story from his own teaching background, telling of being basically one of three men called upon to settle issues, by which I get the impression he means "break up fights." He was called on for older and larger students, and Arne for some reason finds this funny-- like, out loud guffaw funny.
The general gist here is that having a diverse teacher force in a building is a good thing. I would mock this for being as obvious as air, except that I've seen the discussion by aggrieved white teachers indicating their feelings are hurt by this and that any good teacher can teach any kid regardless of color, and while I don't disagree with that to an extent, I also don't see how anyone can deny that a child gets a special benefit from seeing adults in a school who look like him or her. So yeah-- the teacher force needs more men in general and more men of color in particular, particularly now that, as if often noted, our school system is a minority-majority system.
There's some nice jabber about a recruitment website, but the conversation, unfortunately, does not address the real problem, which is retention. African-American men are entering the profession at a high rate, a rate that would go far to solving our diversity deficit if they weren't also leaving the profession at a high rate.
We have lots of folks making noises about the need for diversity, and TFA has sustained rotator cuff injuries patting themselves on the back for their diversity recruitment. But the problem of retention is difficult to address for many reason, not the least of which is that a great deal of reformster energy is being devoted to chasing people out of teaching. The diversity issue forces us to confront the issue of retention, and reformster fluffernuttery notwithstanding, you do not retain people in teaching by reducing autonomy, cutting or freezing wages, making it easier to fire folks for any reason at all, or basing pay on test-based random data VAM models.
If reformsters like Duncan really want to address the diversity issue, then they need to take a good hard look in the face of retention issues and the question of why so many men of color are getting out of teaching so soon after they enter it. And that's not something this video even pretends to do. It's great that Duncan can identify an actual real issue, but if he's not willing to take a serious look at the problem, it's just hot air. Saying "we recognize this problem" is good politics, but that's all it is. We've seen Duncan's ability to make pleasing mouth noises before. It's not enough.