Thurmond’s Focus on Teacher Diversity is the Right Fight to Bring Us Together

Applause to Tony Thurmond for prioritizing an issue that is research proven, low cost, doable and will result in real changes for children and families; increasing the diversity of the teaching sector.  Having a diverse teaching force has educational benefits for all students, but particularly students of color. Amidst all the drama and contention around educational policy, I appreciate him prioritizing substance over soapboxes, and focusing on an issue that unite us rather than divide us.

Before we dig into the research, let’s look at the latest news from the State Superintendent, as reported by Edsource,

In an interview this week at EdSource, Thurmond identified one priority he’s ready to push high on the to-do list: enticing more minority men to become teachers, particularly in the elementary grades, and fostering the conditions to keep them in the classroom. “We’ve landed on a strategy that we’re going to get in place hopefully by next year. It’s tangible. It’s concrete and we know it’s impactful,” Thurmond said. “The data shows when kids see a teacher who looks like them it makes a huge difference.”

Only 1 percent of teachers in California are male African-Americansand 5 percent are Latino, while 6 percent of the state’s students are African-American and 54 percent are Latino.

These changes are not just optics, there is a significant body of research supporting a more diverse teaching profession.

The Educational Effects of Black Teachers

Black teachers have an immense effect on the outcomes for Black students.  A large multistate study with over 100,000 students showed conclusively that

Having at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced a black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent, the study found. For very low-income black boys, the results are even greater – their chance of dropping out fell 39 percent.

Think about that.  One Black teacher cuts the dropout rate by roughly a third.

No, seriously think about that.

The findings from North Carolina were replicated in Tennessee.  And the effects persisted

by high school, African-American students, both boys and girls, who had one African-American teacher had much stronger expectations of going to college. Keep in mind, this effect was observed seven to ten years after the experience of having just one black teacher.

The Gifted Gap and Black Teachers

The allocation of the best opportunities inside schools is often tinged by bias as well.  Black teachers balance the scales on access to gifted opportunities

A new, national study finds that black students are about half as likely as white students to be put on a “gifted” track — even when they have comparable test scores…

Nonblack teachers identify black students as gifted in reading 2.1 percent of the time. Black teachers are three times more likely to identify black students as gifted in reading: 6.2 percent of the time. That’s the same rate as for white students, no matter the race of their teacher.

All Students Prefer Teachers of Color

And its not just Black students who benefit, ALL students prefer teachers of color and Black teachers, and report greater engagement

all the students, including white students, had significantly more favorable perceptions of Latino versus white teachers across the board, and had significantly more favorable perceptions of black versus white teachers on at least two or three of seven categories in the survey…

The relationship persisted after controlling for students’ age, gender, their free and reduced-price lunch status and their academic performance. The researchers also controlled for other factors like the teacher’s level of experience and education, their gender, and even outside expert ratings of the teachers’ effectiveness, based on classroom observations.

No matter what, students had warmer perceptions of their teachers of color.

I could keep going on about the data and the research support for Black teachers.  And you would think that we would be rapidly increasing their numbers, developing recruitment programs and assuring they are getting professional development and support within schools.  Too often they aren’t.

California’s Troubling Numbers

Looking at actual number in California, the share of Black teachers is actually dropping.

 This reflects broader demographic trends, but other factors as well.  They are factors we can and should affect.

Appreciate the superintendent for prioritizing a winnable battle that will matter for our children.  I hope we can continue to keep our focus on what matters to the children and families of California rather than the interest groups that so often dominate. And that we continue to march together on the issues that can unite us, rather than marching against one another, with children being trampled.

What do you think?

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