Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
By Nekita Lamour
We need more teachers of color in our schools. But the obsession with testing and other fads have sent many black teachers packing.
Take Chicago. The share of African-American teachers in the Chicago public schools went down from 45 percent in 1995 to 19 percent in 2012, according to a September 2012 Reuters article.
In the last few years, the drop has been most dramatic. According to the Chicago Alliance of Urban School Educators, Chicago public schools had 8,000 to 9,000 black teachers in 2010, but only 2,500 in 2013.
And in Massachusetts, fewer than 3 percent of the teachers are African-American, according to research by the Center for American Progress.
Meanwhile, the student population in public schools across the country is increasingly made up of kids of color.
"Nationally, minority students make up 40.7 percent of the public school population," the 2011 study by the Center for American Progress revealed. "Although many schools (both urban and rural) are increasingly made up of a majority of black and Latino students, black and Latino teachers represent only about 14.6 percent of the teaching work force. And in urban and high-poverty schools where minority teachers are disproportionately employed, teaching staffs are still predominately composed of white teachers."
Black teachers are underrepresented not because of any lack of competency. "Teachers of color have demonstrated success in increasing academic achievement for engaging students of similar backgrounds," the study found.
Putting more teachers of color in the classrooms is important to improving students' performance. President Obama recognized this in his July 2012 White House Executive Order on Educational Excellence for African-Americans when he wrote about the need to "improve the recruitment, preparation, development, and retention of successful African-American teachers."
But his administration has focused less on this than on testing and the so-called Race to the Top. This emphasis has led to the closing of some inner-city schools, and with it, the loss of jobs for teachers of color.
Programs like Teach for America haven't helped matters, either. Sending recent college graduates, predominantly white, into the public schools for two-year placements has often gotten in the way of retaining highly skilled black teachers who are more likely to be connected to the local black community.
We should look at teaching in a holistic way. Often, the best teachers are those who relate to their students' experiences and who have roots in the communities where their students live.
As our schools become more black and brown, we need to do more to attract and retain teachers of color.
Nekita Lamour is a Haitian-American tenured educator. She holds a master's in education and a Jesuit theological degree. She taught in a district north of Boston for more than 25 years and paid union dues for 26 years. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright Nekita Lamour.