by Edward Hayes - Chicago Public Education Examiner

Archaeologically speaking, male elementary teachers are going the way of the unindicted Illinois governor, virtual extinction. In 2007, the National Education Association announced that men are only 9 percent of America’s elementary teachers — a 40-year low. A sub-set of this species, the black male teacher, is so rarely seen in daylight that he becoming an urban myth.

Within that paltry 9% of the total teaching population that is male, only 7% of it is black, that comes out to 1% of all American teachers. Hispanic males are severely under-represented as well; they come in at 6%. Both Hispanic and African American boys combine to form the core of Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) most perplexing academic and disciplinary challenges, but I will focus solely on blacks for one highly scientific reason: I don’t know enough about Latinas to call myself an expert on their culturally driven education problems. The two years I spent as an associate principal of a majority Hispanic high school was just enough to familiarize myself with Latin youngsters, but not enough to qualify as an expert.

Let me reinforce the need for male instructors. Despite the glorious performance of recent past CPS CEO’s, Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan, the Schott Foundation reports that, for the school year ending in 2006, Illinois was 43 out of the 50 states in the percentage of black males graduating high school. Uh, that is 7 from the bottom, not from the top. In real terms, only 37% of the 102,185 black males in Chicago that should have graduated, did so. That left 64,377 large, unemployable, semi-literate black teen-agers without much to do for the rest of their lives. I bet the corporate headhunters for the Vice Lords, Gangster Disciples, and Latin Kings made AIG-class bonuses that year. (and in the years before and after)  It’s time for the Mayor to do something besides building pretty new schools to warehouse ugly old problems. It’s simple. If the kids are ‘dumb,’ then the education system in place is a dumber.

Again, the percentage of African American male teachers is the lowest it has been since 1971. Furthermore, the college pipeline is cellophane thin. Black males graduating each year with a degree in education averages less than 2,000, and that is for the entire United States and California. CPS alone hires 2,000 new teachers each year. So where are we going to find enough ‘brothers’ to staff Taliban Elementary? I only have column space to explore one recommendation.

Before I make it, understand that there are hundreds of organizations out in the hinterland that desperately want to help schools. Locally the Black Star Project is very active and highly aggressive. The They-Call- Me-Mister Program at South Carolina’s Clemson University is a feeder mechanism for new college graduates, and IBM Corporation, that’s right good old Itty Bitty Machines, has a Transition-to-Teaching vehicle for engineers and scientists leaving the firm. The only reason a school district cannot find black men is because they ‘ain’t’ looking for them. I digress, let’s return to my one recommendation.

The U.S. Department of Defense, in 1994, established the Troops-to-Teachers (TTT) program to:

1. Help relieve teacher shortages

2. Provide positive role models for public school students

3. Assist military personnel in transitioning to civilian life

In 2000, TTT was transferred to the U.S. Department of Education. TTT provides $5,000 for already degreed veterans to pay the tuition required to attain teacher certification, or a $10,000 grant to those who agree to teach in a ‘high needs’ school for three years. According to my information, there are fewer than 50 TTT faculty in the CPS. That is about 3 TTT hires a year out of the 2,000 CPS brings on board. When I returned from an earlier overseas tour of duty in 2005, I was unable to make contact with anyone at CPS who was knowledgeable about the program, even though the State of Illinois office for TTT is located downtown in the Thompson Center.

The beauty of TTT is:

  • 4 out of 5 of the military participants are male
  • 1 out of 4 of the military participants are African American
  • 1 out of 4 of the military participants have math or science degrees
  • 1 out of 4 of the military participants has a special education credential

It taxes the boundaries of credibility when a big, fat city smack dab in the middle of the country cannot find a black male veteran, but at the same time, it is a highly unpublicized fact that CPS, in 2000, reached agreements with the U.S. Department of Labor and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to bring in foreign teachers for up to six years. While other districts, such as New York City, also sought qualified teachers abroad, the Chicago initiative was unique because the INS agreed with CPS to issue visas similar to those used to fill shortages in high-tech fields.

On the backside of the year of 2000, 44 international teacher candidates from 22 different countries were hired by CPS. Universal hero and CPS CEO Paul Vallas commented, ‘Finding qualified teachers has become more and more difficult as we compete with other school districts for fewer and fewer candidates. It makes sense to recruit qualified candidates from abroad.’

Perhaps if Mr. Vallas, non-educator emeritus, had walked the 2 blocks down Clark Street to the Thompson center on Randolph, he would have found qualified Americans who’d just come from abroad.