Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Non-White Teacher Problem

And here comes yet an other piece of research to add to the stack.

New research from Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding looked for new information to explain the underrepresentation of students of color in gifted programs. It's complicated problem, but the researchers came up with one answer-- white teachers are far less likely than teachers of color to identify students of color as gifted. (Consider this the second cousin of the finding that police view young Black men as older and less innocent than whites).

Research from last spring suggests that students do better in classes taught by same-race teachers.

Common sense that says students need to see an adult in school who is like them.

And yet, the trend in education has worked the other way since the days of Brown vs. Board of Education. At a moment when the student population in the US is less than 50% white, the teacher pool is overwhelmingly white and female.

In some cases, Black educators have been pushed out of the classroom (post Katrina New Orleans went from a 71% Black teaching pool to less than 50%). But research keeps repeating the same basic finding on a larger scale-- we are failing to hold onto men and non-white teachers.

Why? Articles keep asking the question, but nobody seems to have an answer.

There are theories. The low pay, which can have impact on men who feel the need to support a family with their job. Richard Ingersoll, a leading researcher of the teacher pool tags working conditions, specifically lack of autonomy and input in school decisions. This first-person account slams home the degree of cultural insensitivity that teachers of color can encounter. And that's before we even get into systems and communities where just-plain-racism is a huge obstacle.

It's a problem, and it's larger problem than it was decades ago precisely because the racial balance of our students is shifting, and -- as with the article that kicked this piece off -- there are real, damaging consequences to students of color.

And yet, nobody is really working on the problem. Reformsters says next to nothing about teacher retention-- they're much more interested in tracking bad teachers down and consequently have done a lot to make teaching seem less like a stable job. Teach for America has taken a stab at it, sort of, but since TFA is in the business of creating short-term teacher tourism instead of building lifetime teaching careers.

Local districts are caught up in a variety of other issues, many of them completely legit. The non-white (male) teacher gap is not sexy, it's not headline grabbing, and it isn't costing anybody a lot of money. It intersects with race, which white America isn't often good at discussing (or even willing to try), and it tweaks the egos of white teachers who, if they don't listen carefully enough, hear, "You aren't good enough to teach students of color," which is of course beside the point.

But with every additional data point, it becomes more and more clearly a problem that we can't just ignore.


  1. I have some ambivalent feelings about this issue. On one hand, I understand that more "persons of color" are needed in schools. However, it makes me uncomfortable to read that "successful persons of color" can't "afford" to continue teaching. What does that say about the poor souls of any race or ethnicity who stay in the classroom. Am I some "dumb schmuck" because I made a commitment to the profession because it was work that I enjoyed and that I believed made a positive contribution to society? When I read one of the articles you referenced about the "Teach for America graduate" who left teaching to get a "better" job doing something else, it "sort of" annoyed me because that person had a real opportunity to help folks improve their lives and they chose to pursue the so-called "American Dream" and try to stuff as much $$$ into their pockets as they could. Sure, pay for teachers sucks, and every politician thinks they can get more $$$$ from Super Pacs by trashing teachers (Like that ignorant S.O.B. governor from NJ who made such a great sacrifice to leave his campaign in New Hampshire to come back to NJ to help us get through the Blizzard of '16), but it's honest work that helps people rather than rips them off.

    I always enjoy your blogs, but this one not so much.

    1. TFA's specialty is people who are only passing through the classroom on their way to their "real jobs." That's their thing.

      And I don't think that you (or I, for that matter) are a dumb schmuck for sticking it out. But some people can't. People stay and go for a variety of reasons. I try not to read any judgment about my choices into their choices.

  2. It has always bothered me that I have not seen a single Black student in my AP Physics class in 17 years. I know there are capable students out there. It bothers me,

  3. On point as usual. Many very capable females stay in teaching because their husbands have much higher salaries. My husband has always said I am his community service. In shouldn't be this way and many cant afford it.