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Education Commentary

The ‘Urgent Need’ for Minority Teachers

By Peter Loehr — October 05, 1988 6 min read

The declining availability of black and other minority teachers is severely jeopardizing efforts to improve urban school districts.

Projected decreases in the number of black teachers through retirement and other natural attrition during the next five years, coupled with a drastic drop in the number of entry-level minority applicants, will enlarge the already-inadequate ratio of minority teachers to minority pupils in many urban districts.

The trend is clear: Because of a shortage of black and other minority applicants, vacated positions previously occupied by minority teachers are being filled by white teachers.

As the proportion of white teachers grows, role modeling that might encourage minority students to pursue careers in education decreases. And as the proportion of minority teachers falls, the perceived importance of academic achievement to minority students also declines.

Positive role modeling and characterization are crucial for ensuring commitment of minority youngsters to schooling. Without sufficient exposure to minority teachers throughout their education, both minority and majority students come to characterize the teaching profession--and the academic enterprise in general--as better suited to whites.

Under these circumstances, urban school systems will fail their students--who will drop out in increasing numbers--and their communities at large. And the long-term economic consequences--higher unemployment, welfare, and crime rates, fewer qualified workers--could prove devastating, both for individual states and the nation.

Urban districts and states must begin immediately to enact measures designed to reduce these projected failures.

The following figures from Ohio suggest the dimensions of the problem not only in that state, but also across the country:

During the past 10 years, the state’s percentage of black students has risen annually--without any improvement in the black teacher-student ratio.

During the 1986-87 school year, some 14 percent of the approximately 1.8 million students statewide were black, compared with only about 6 percent of 73,000 teachers.

Despite aggressive and costly recruitment strategies by many urban school districts in Ohio, there were only 39 more black teachers in October 1987 than in October 1986.

When current strategies do not achieve the intended results, it is time to expand or alter those policies. Local districts and communities, universities, and the state and federal governments must share the responsibility for improving the proportion of minority teachers in public schools.

One of the most important resources for recruiting black educators is the local community: Carefully designed programs can attract blacks and other minorities already in the community into the teaching profession. Districts can win support for such efforts by advancing the view that an increase in the percentage of minority teachers is vital to the community’s future prosperity.

To identify prospective teachers, districts should develop coalitions and partnerships with local business and civic organizations. Beyond locating teacher-candidates, such efforts should plan career-guidance activities and establish grant and scholarship funds to draw minority students enrolled in college back to the community as educators.

As a top priority, district administrators must encourage local minority students to consider careers in teaching. Principals, teachers, and counselors should also promote theteaching profession among their students.

These processes of identifying and monitoring potential teachers should begin not later than the junior-high-school years and should extend through students’ high-school and college careers.

Districts that employ students during the summer can give special consideration for such jobs to minority students intending to pursue careers in education.

To effectively implement such plans, communities must allocate financial and human resources--not simply add duties for already overworked administrators, counselors, and teachers.

Colleges and universities offer additional resources for recruiting minority teachers.

As a matter of public policy, colleges should give priority for financial aid to blacks and other minorities pursuing careers in education.

And these institutions--especially the state-supported regional universities near urban centers--should seek out minority students for their colleges of education. Cities are the best source for such recruitment. Indeed, state-supported urban universities have an obligation to provide the surrounding school districts with minority teacher-candidates.

The increasingly common practice of on-campus recruitment by districts is valuable and should be continued. But no urban district has actually achieved major hiring goals for blacks by this means alone.

In fact, a study conducted by the Ohio Minority Recruitment Consortium found that costly minority-recruitment programs often do not even keep pace with retirements among minority teachers.

With their vested interest in the success of urban school districts, states also must take actions encouraging minority students to enter teaching.

Legislators, for example, could create or expand financial aid and loan “forgiveness” plans for young people who become teachers. In Ohio, for instance, the state’s student-loan commission forgives loans made to minority students who major in education and enter teaching upon graduation.

In addition, human-resource consultants from state agencies could help schools develop career-guidance programs.

And state policymakers should provide special funding to assist local districts in their efforts to identify and recruit prospective educators.

Governors, state superintendents of education, state-university boards of regents, and state school boards should give priority backing to urban education programs.

At the national level, the Congress, the U.S. Education Department, and other agencies must also adopt strategies to counter this impending crisis.

Three decades ago, the Congress adopted the National Defense Education Act, establishing a program of student loans and fellowships in response to the challenge posed by the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik. Likewise, it should enact a new program of federally supported loans and forgiveness plans designed to meet the challenge posed by the minority-teacher shortage.

Federal agencies could also provide grants or other incentives to states and urban areas developing recruitment strategies.

The urgent need to increase the proportion of black and other minority teachers in urban schools is not a “black problem” or essentially a racial issue. Nor is it entirely an equal-employment issue.

Rather, the problem is primarily a matter of educational opportunity. The presence of appropriate role models in schools is crucial for helping minority students see the academic environment as one in which they can succeed--and should strive to do so.

Without close, living examples, many of these young people will continue to hold a sadly limited image of success--one that devalues academic achievement.

For the sake of such students and the society of which they make up a steadily growing portion, policymakers must develop solid, effective plans to confront--and solve--this problem.

A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 1988 edition of Education Week


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