Lack of African-American male educators is killing public education

By Roosevelt Mitchell III - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

According to researchers Ana Maria Villegas and Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, minority teachers, as role models, improved the self-worth of minority students. Others found that a diverse teaching population improved academic achievement for minorities along with the educational climate for white students.

Educators and the makers of policy have spoken about the need to diversify the teaching population for a number of years. A recent study by Yale University further explains why America’s classrooms need more African-American male teachers. The study compared the unconscious stereotypes of black and white preschool teachers toward students. The results of the study yielded that teachers who care for young children judge those kids’ behaviors differently based on race or implicit bias.

Implicit bias is the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes. To a large extent the ultimate effect of implicit bias for African-American students is the widening of the discipline gap and achievement gap.

Recent estimates reveal that one in three students will be suspended between kindergarten and 12th grade. African-American preschool children are overall 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as white preschoolers. Across all grade levels, African-American students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended and almost twice as likely to be expelled as white students.

Loss of classroom instruction time damages student performance. For example, a study by Attendance Works found that missing three days of school in the month before taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress translated into fourth graders scoring a full grade level lower in reading on this test. New research shows that higher suspension rates are closely correlated with higher dropout and delinquency rates, and that they have tremendous economic costs for the suspended students, as well as for society as a whole.

By turning the other cheek to the discipline gap, we will always be unable to close the achievement gap. I believe that we can combat implicit bias and the discipline gap by first improving the minority teaching gap.

In Missouri, I am one of only 63 African-American male special education teachers in the entire state. Missouri leads the country in the suspension disparity among black and white elementary students. According to the latest statistics from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there are 14,436 African-American male students in the state and yet only 63 African-American male special education teachers. In the general education setting, there are 814 African-American male teachers (out of 70,117 educators statewide) yet there are more than 72,000 African-American boys statewide.

Students do not benefit nor do school districts from such a large discrepancy in teacher/student diversity. African-American male educators can instantly provide positive role modeling and improve the self-worth of all students and particularly African-American students.

This is not to make or portray African-American male educators as the solution or savior to education or the fix to all of the educational issues that we face today. The achievement gap, implicit bias and discipline gap issues are complex, so it will take a multifaceted approach to fix, but I believe that closing the teaching gap is a major step in the right direction.

Roosevelt Mitchell III is a St. Louis city resident and an award-winning special education teacher in the Normandy school district.

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November 16, 2016