New research sponsored by the National Academy of Education seeks a deeper understanding of why there are so few black male teachers in U.S. public schools.
The backdrop for the work by Travis Bristol of Teachers College, Columbia University and Ron Ferguson of the Harvard Achievement Gap Initiative is the startling fact that black males, who are six percent of the U.S. population, makeup less than two percent of the nation’s public school teachers.
In LA Unified, the numbers are slightly above the national average. Here, black male teachers accounted for 2.9 percent of all teachers in the 2012-13 school year, a total of 743, according to district data. With 31,320 black male students, that’s a ratio of 42 to 1, compared with the ratio of white male students to white male teachers of 9 to 1.
Noting the efforts of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his department’s “Black Men to the Blackboard” recruitment campaign begun in 2011, Bristol and Ferguson hypothesize that this dearth of black male teachers, especially in urban areas, is as much an issue of retainment as recruitment.
Using a Black Male Teacher Environment Survey, which they administered to teachers in Boston Public Schools, the researchers found that black male teachers were more inclined to stay on the job if there were more back male teachers in the school. Respondents who were the only black men on their faculty indicated a greater desire to leave their current schools, even in a down economy, whereas respondents with four or more black men on the faculty expressed a greater desire to stay.
The “Loners” (86 percent) were also more likely than the “Groupers” (50 percent) to have taught in three or more schools over the course of their careers and to cite challenges with colleagues as their reason for departure, according to the study.
Bristol said he hopes his study leads to more research that attempts to understand the work experiences of black male teachers. His conclusions will be featured as a chapter in the soon-to-be published book, Teacher Education and the Black Community.
“As the new school year begins, newspapers across the country are reporting on school districts’ search for minority teachers, especially African American teachers — evidence that we, as a society, continue to navigate around the color line,” Bristol wrote in a guest column on the Albert Shanker Institute blog. “If administrators and policy makers continue to focus solely on recruitment efforts, without attention to retention, they run the risk of creating a revolving door of teachers in our public schools.”