Category Archives: Diversity Resources

Students Pay the Price When Teachers of Color Exit

Black teachers are leaving the profession in droves, and new research confirms that students of color are paying the highest price for this disparity.

This is the conclusion of an article in the April/May 2018 issue of Ebony.com. The article focuses on Jason Dunning, a black teacher of science at a virtually all-black middle school in Birmingham, Alabama.

“For a lot of (my students), me standing there wearing bow tie and a lab coat is a big deal,” Mr. Dunning says. “For many, I’m the first black man they’ve ever seen as a teacher, outside of P.E. or as a coach.”

Jason Dunning, inspiring his students in the science classroom.

And his presence is having an impact. As Principal Davida Hill Johnson says, “So many of them want to be scientists now.”

One of them is seventh grader J’layah Shepherd, who says connecting with Dunning has inspired her to attend college and pursue a science career.

“I didn’t really know what to expect, having a black man as a science teacher, but it’s been great,” she says. “He’s like one of us, and there’s more connection there.”

Statistics suggest that it is increasingly rare for African-American students like Shepherd to have teachers who look like them. Now, for the first time, there are more students of color (51 percent) enrolled in public schools than white students. But teachers of color represent only about 20 percent of the nation’s elementary and secondary school teaching force. And more than 40 percent of public schools don’t have a single teacher of color, according to the National Education Association (NEA).

(In Connecticut, although more than 40 percent of public school students are students of color, only about seven percent of teachers are persons of color.)

Studies have shown that a lack of teacher diversity tends to adversely affect students from underrepresented groups, especially students of color.

“Students of color learn better when they see a teacher of color in the classroom, and they’re more likely to stay in school and graduate,” says Lisette Partelow, director of K-12 strategic initiatives for the Center for American Progress (CAP). “So the impact is very measurable. We also believe a diverse teacher workforce can help students develop a more realistic and inclusive worldview. All students benefit from a more diverse teacher workforce.”

For decades, the positive effects of same-race teacher exposure were almost exclusively anecdotal. But recent research affirms that outcomes, such as test scores, attendance and suspension rates, are affected by who is doing the teaching. Experts say diverse teachers serve as role models for students of color, and they have been shown to have higher expectations and a better cultural understanding of those students.

In fact, an April 2017 study by the Institute of Labor Economics (ILE) found that having just one black teacher in third, forth or fifth grade reduced a low-income black boy’s probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent. And if a black male or female student from a low-income household had a black teacher, the ILE  found that the student was more likely to plan to attend a four-year college.

However, in numerous studies and surveys from school districts nationwide, black teachers have reported high levels of job dissatisfaction. They have expressed widespread concerns about job security and concerns about implicit bias directed toward them and students of color, too.

As a result, teachers of color are leaving the profession in droves. Contributing to the problem is that research confirms that black teachers are more likely than their white counterparts to be clustered in high-need, economically disadvantaged urban schools with limited resources. And many of those who do land jobs at more affluent or well-resourced suburban districts often report feeling isolated.

Jerry Washington, one of two other black, male teachers at Dunning’s school, believes that increasing teacher pay is at the heart of fixing the leaky diverse teacher pipeline. “The fact that people feel that teachers don’t get paid enough is a big part of the problem,” he says. “I think that if the salaries were raised, more people would be willing to consider education.”

Many cities and states have implemented initiatives to recruit and retain more teaches of color. In New York City, for example, the NYC Men Teach program aims to put 1,000 additional men of color on course to become teachers over three years.

Mr. Dunning believes that the black teacher shortage will turn around when the black community makes it a priority. “We have to make that sacrifice because, for so many of our students, we are the only positive role models that they’ll et to see,” he says. “If we don’t educate and inspire our youth to become the very best, nobody else will.”

More Black Teachers Needed To Remedy Achievement Gap

The achievement gap between white students and students of color has been vexing Connecticut educators for some time.

Many educators are working hard to correct this disparity. In fact, our own Dr. Miguel Cardona (1998 Alma Exley Scholar) has led a legislative commission that has addressed the issue and offered recommendations. He has also worked with the State Department of Education to help develop a statewide approach to the achievement gap. But the problem persists.

Disparities Facing Black and White Students

Now Connecticut Voices for Children, a New Haven-based research and advocacy group, has published a report that describes in detail the disparities that face black and white students as they go to school each day. The report decries the disparate educational outcomes and prescribes a number of remedies.

One of the key findings of the report is especially interesting to the Alma Exley Scholarship family. The report declares, “Access to teachers of the same race differs dramatically, with black students much less likely to have teachers of their own ethnicity.”

According to the report, only 3.5 percent of teachers in the state are black, while black students constitute 13 percent of the student population. (The report just focuses on the disparities between black and non-Hispanic white students. It does not refer to other students of color.)

Black Students Have Greater Success With Black Teachers

The report concludes that the dearth of black teachers matters because black students achieve higher levels of success when they have had a black teacher.1 As the report says, “By bolstering student confidence and alleviating feelings of marginalization, black teachers can act as a protective factor against negative experiences like punitive discipline policies or racist comments.”

The impact of black teachers is said to be highest for black male students from low-income households.2 In one study, researchers found that black male students who had a black teacher in elementary school were up to 39 percent less likely to drop out of high school.3

Efforts Under Way at State Department of Education

Connecticut Voices for Children recommends increasing the number of black teachers and expanding support for minority teachers. The organization applauds the State Department of Education’s Talent Development Office and the Minority Teacher Recruitment Policy Oversight Council, which have been working to increase the number of teachers of color in the state.

Given the positive correlation between having a black teacher and the success of black students, the hiring, training, and support of teachers of color should be a priority. Unfortunately, the 2018 budget of the Talent Development Office has been cut by 89 percent. Hence, Voices for Children calls for the restoration of the office’s funding.

Other Factors in Divergent Experiences of Black and White Students

As the report confirms, the dearth of black teachers is just one of the factors in the vastly different school experiences encountered by black and white students. And these factors result in vastly different outcomes.

For example:

  • Suspension ratesare four times higher for black than white students.
  • Chronic absenteeism ratesare two and a half times higher for black students.
  • Access to advanced classes is significantly more limited, with black students constituting only 7 percent of students enrolled in gifted and talented programs.

Initiatives Recommended

In addition to urging the hiring and supporting of more black teachers, the report recommends a number of other initiatives. These include:

  • Expanding data sharing on school discipline and attendance to identify chronically absent students;
  • Improving anti-bias training for school personnel;
  • Increasing school funding to districts with high minority populations.

Read the full report.

Connecticut Voices for Children’s mission is to promote the wellbeing of all of Connecticut’s children and families by identifying and advocating for strategic public investments and wise public policies. Connecticut Voices advances its mission through high-quality research and analysis, policy development, strategic communications, and establishment of a sustainable and powerful voice for children.

1The Albert Shanker Institute, 2015, The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education.

2 Seth Gershenson, Cassandra Hart, M. D., Constance A. Lindsay, and Nicolas W. Papageorge. The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers 3 Ibid.

Teachers Of Color Vs. The Achievement Gap

Over the past 22 years, our program has been committed to the idea that students of color benefit from having teachers with whom they can identify. During this period, studies have emerged that have supported this idea.

The most recent to come to my attention was an academic study published by the Institute of Labor Economics. WSHU-FM, a public radio station in Southern Connecticut, recently aired a report on the study.

The study, by professors at American University, University of California-Davis, and Johns Hopkins University, examined the long-term impact of teachers of color on their demographic counterparts.

The professors acknowledged findings that black primary-school students with a same-race teacher perform better on standardized tests, but they went further. They concluded that a black male student with a black teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grade is much less likely to drop out of high school, particularly among the most economically disadvantaged black males.

In addition, the study found, exposure to at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 also increases the likelihood that low-income students of both sexes will aspire to attend a four-year college.

This makes it all the more important to recruit and retain more teachers of color in Connecticut’s schools. Read the WSHU-FM report here.

  • Woody Exley