It is no surprise to me that quantifiable and quantitative data supports the need for more Black teachers in our public schools. However, unfortunately, at times, I receive messages from people (including educators) saying, “it shouldn’t matter what color teachers are.” (read: we don’t need diverse teachers).
After working with Black men to create The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, we hear from people, all too often, complaining that we want to increase the number of Black men leading classrooms and schools (currently only 2% of America’s public school teachers are Black men). The folks who claim “reverse racism” (which is not even possible, but that’s a different topic) cite that focusing on the race of educators in the classroom should not matter… .
But, oh, race does matter. Especially, when there is a very real chance that plenty of students won’t have the opportunity to have a Black teacher without a deliberate and specific outcomes-driven plan to change the narrative.
Johns Hopkins University recently released a study that highlights the need and impact of having Black teachers leading our classrooms, especially for younger students. The study found that there is a decrease in the dropout rates of Black students and an increase in their likelihood to pursue higher education.
The researchers studied approximately 100,000 black students who enrolled in third grade in North Carolina’s public schools between 2001 and 2005 and found that the risk of dropping out for black students decreased by 29 percent if they had at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades. And for persistently low-income black boys, the risk decreased by 39 percent.
Too many people said “zero” when Christopher McFadden, a member of The Fellowship, asked, How many Black male teachers did you have in school?
There is an urgency of now and a need for long-term solutions. Communities must ask our districts and charter schools to be transparent about their data and the plans to address the need for more diversity in our schools and classrooms.
Where there is a will, there is a way. When there is no will to diversify our students’ learning experiences, it just won’t happen. With the telling research, it is not a nicety, it is an imperative.
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.