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.