Wanted: African American educators – especially male

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By Vernon A. Williams

An IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) study confirms that African American children are three times as likely to be placed in gifted education programs if they have a Black teacher as opposed to a white teacher.

The research finds that Black students are 54 percent less likely than whites to be identified as eligible for gifted-education services after adjusting for the students’ previous scores on standardized tests, demographic factors, and school/teacher characteristics.

There are other studies that affirm a lower percentage of Black children identified as gifted. But this is the first study based not only on organizational data but related causes for the underrepresentation.

Specifically, the study says Black teachers’ perceptions of Black children is significantly more positive than those of whites – which leads to more positive assessments. It is the age old idiom of relationships being prerequisite to the most productive learning environment.

Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

When student-teacher relationships improve, expectations rise and so do performances. A recent study conducted by American University and John Hopkins University concluded that Black teachers had higher expectations than white teachers for African American students to achieve at a high level in school.

Undoubtedly, countless white teachers passionately embrace African American students, provide inspiration and profoundly impact their lives. That’s not to be ignored or marginalized. But when you take a car into the shop, it does no good to praise working parts. The mechanic can only offer diagnosis after you identify parts NOT functioning properly.

African American male students are far more likely to be suspended, expelled, medicated, jailed and classified for special education. But who is making those decisions?

Three out of four public school students are African American or Hispanic while about 80 percent of the teachers are white women. Black men account for less than 2 percent of teachers. Studies show that when Black male students can relate to their teachers on a more personal level, they perform better academically – with far fewer disciplinary distractions.

Michael Books, a Black principal in New Orleans explained, “When they see us in positions of authority in education, it can motivate them to be better men, better fathers and do something that helps take us out of that (stereotypical) realm that says, ‘most African-American males are incarcerated, have children out of wedlock and don’t take care of business’.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “As a country, we have a huge challenge to make sure our young Black boys are successful. To get there, we have to have more men of color teaching – being role models and mentors.” Easier said than done. Teacher requirements are high. Compensation is low. But America has to get her priorities straight and make it happen.

Americans applaud star athlete being paid $40 million a year, but show contempt for starting teachers asking for $40,000. Don’t think the hypocrisy is lost on children.

That’s why you find a thousand young men in high school with dreams of making it to the NBA for every one even remotely interested in becoming a teacher.

So how do we break the cycle? There is no silver bullet – no panacea. Yet in reality, we’ve worked out far more daunting propositions when we seriously: (a) explore and articulate the challenges, (b) determine outcome-oriented goals, (c) create strategies and timetables, (d) work passionately and relentlessly – individually and collectively – and (e) keep God in the equation.

This formula never fails. But it can’t work if everyone waits on someone else to fix it. And we can’t leave it to educators.

This is a critical community/society challenge. Whether you’re a surgeon or chef, truck driver or pilot, judge or accountant, pastor or paralegal, engineer or carpenter – this is your problem. Somewhere down the road, children left behind will cross your path. How we encourage and prepare them will dictate the outcome of those encounters.

What are you willing to do to become part of the solution?

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: vernonawilliams@yahoo.com.

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