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Number of Blacks Entering Teaching Declines Dramatically

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Houston--At a time when black students constitute a growing percentage of the U.S. school-age population, the number of blacks being prepared to teach in the nation's elementary and secondary schools is declining dramatically, according to black educators attending the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education here recently.

The trend, they warn, has serious implications for the quality of education received by black children, as well as for the survival of the teacher-training programs in the approximately 100 traditionally black colleges and universities that in the past have granted a majority of the undergraduate education degrees earned by blacks.

Dedicated Teachers

"For many black kids, a dedicated black teacher is the only thing that gives them a chance," said Asa G. Hilliard, a professor of educational psychology at Georgia State University in Atlanta. "If they [black teachers] were not there, black kids would get nothing."

Statistics suggest there is a widening gap in the ratio between black students and black teachers in the country.

Census Bureau figures show that in 1968-69 blacks made up 12 percent of nation's elementary- and secondary-school population. In 1979-80, the figure was 15.3 percent. In urban areas, the percentage was substantially higher.

In contrast, statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and unpublished figures from the National Center for Educational Statistics (nces) show that the representation of black classroom teachers and black education-school graduates has remained nearly the same for several years, at about 10 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

In 1979, there were approximately 2.2 million elementary- and secondary-classroom teachers in schools across the country, and about 126,000 students received bachelor degrees in education.

In 1980, blacks made up 11.7 percent of the nation's population.

However, from 1976 to 1979, the number of black education-school graduates dropped by 19 percent--about the same as the drop in the number of all education-school graduates, according to nces statistics.

Some 75 black teacher-education leaders gathered in an afternoon-long session here to discuss ways of averting what they predict will be a further decline in the number of blacks going into teaching in the next few years.

Reasons Cited

They cited several reasons for their forecast, in particular an increased use by states of standardized tests as a requirement for admission and certification, much greater access of blacks to other (often more prestigious and higher-paying) careers, and impending cuts in federal student-aid programs.

James B. Jones, former dean of the school of education at Texas Southern University in Houston, said the desire to forego a career in education, while common among many college students, is especially acute among blacks, who for many years were unable to enter easily such fields as business and law. "You tend to go where the door has been shut," Mr. Jones said.

In 1959, among the 87 traditionally black four-year colleges--those that were founded prior to 1954, in an era when blacks were barred from white schools in many states--52 percent of the degrees granted were in education. In 1979, the comparable figure was 26 percent. The traditionally black colleges trained nearly 50 percent of the 11,510 black education majors in 1979.

The black teacher-educators who met here were unanimously and vehemently opposed to using the results of standardized tests to admit students to education programs and to certify teachers.

Said the dean of Howard University's school of education, Willie T. Howard: "The use of the National Teacher Examination is going to have a severe impact on the supply of black teachers."

(Thirty-four states have mandated or are considering the use of standardized tests as a requirement for education-school admission and/or graduation. The Supreme Court in 1978 upheld South Carolina's right to use the National Teacher Examination as a requirement for certification.)

'Tremendous' Implications

+The implications of a decline in the number of black teachers are "tremendous," the black educators agreed. They cited the loss of role models and advocates for black youths as important consequences of fewer black teachers in the classroom.

"Too often black children are automatically tracked by unconcerned school counselors into non-academic courses," said Elaine P. Witty, dean of the school of education at Norfolk State University in Virginia and organizer of the meeting here. "The black teacher plays an important role in dispelling the perception that black students are unmotivated."

Added Mr. Jones, the former education dean at Texas Southern University: "Black teachers have needed to go beyond the provisions of their contracts in order to deal with the problems faced by many black students, such as single-parent families and poverty. They won't necessarily be on the freeway heading home at 3:10."

The number of education majors at Texas Southern has dropped from 800 out of a student body of 4,000 ten years ago to 400 out of 8,000 today.

Declining enrollments combined with the Reagan Administration's proposed cuts in federal student aid have placed the teacher-training programs in traditionally black colleges--the principal source of black teachers--in what has been described by the black educators as "cliff-hanging" and "precarious" financial positions.

Said Samuel L. Myers, executive director of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, a membership organization for the traditionally black schools: "We will gain a little in the proposed 1983 increases in Title III [developing institution] funds, but we will lose far more under the proposed cuts in federal student-aid programs."

Mr. Myers noted that 85 percent of the students in the traditionally black colleges receive some sort of federal student assistance. Approximately 50 percent of the overall college-student population receives such support.

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