By Jessica Calefati/The Star-Ledger

Minority male teachers are scarce in New Jersey’s public schools—and in classrooms across the country—but a bill moving through the state Legislature aims to attract more of them to some of the state’s struggling school districts.

The legislation, sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), would create a pilot program to encourage African-American, Hispanic and Asian men to leave their private-sector jobs, earn alternate-route certification and teach in certain failing school districts.

Lampitt said her bill (A3195) could help the state address two crucial shortages by employing more minority men and also providing more quality teachers for disadvantaged schools.

“We know that a tremendous number of households these days are being run by females, and many by grandmothers,” Lampitt said. “Many of our young people don’t have significant male role models in their lives. Successful minority men who teach can be those role models.”

Last week, the bill cleared the Senate Education Committee. If it’s approved by the full Senate and signed into law, the bill would require the state Department of Education to select six failing school districts to participate in the pilot and monitor the program’s effectiveness.

Some educators say the pilot program sounds promising in theory, but in practice, having high-quality teachers in every classroom, regardless of race or gender, is the most effective way to turn around schools that struggle.

All of the male teachers at Roselle Park High School are white, and Principal Sarah Costa said she is eager to diversify her staff, but many of the minority candidates who apply for teaching positions at her school don’t have the required credentials, she said.

“If two teachers of different races are of equal caliber, of course I would like to bring in more minorities to teach our growing minority population,” said Costa, whose district’s disadvantaged student population has increased sharply in recent years. “Ultimately, I hire the best person for the job.”

Forty percent of the school’s 600 students are Hispanic, 8 percent are black and nearly 44 percent are white, according to state Education Department data.

Costa also said she is skeptical of teachers who come to the profession late in their careers and get certified through alternate routes. Many of those teachers struggle to control their classrooms, Costa said.

“They may be experts in their fields, but most are not experts in classroom management,” Costa said. “Either you have a natural knack for showing authority in a loving, caring way, or you don’t.”

Lampitt introduced her bill one year after U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan launched a national campaign to get more minority college students to go into teaching.
By 2015, Duncan hopes to recruit 80,000 African-American and Hispanic males across the country to become teachers.

Nationwide, more than 35 percent of public school students are African-American or Hispanic, but fewer than 15 percent of teachers are black or Latino. Fewer than 2 percent of the nation’s teachers are African-American males, Duncan has said.

In Essex County, more that a third of the teachers are minorities, and in Union County, more than a fourth of teachers are minorities, according to state Education Department data.

In Middlesex County, 12 percent of teachers are minorities, and in Hunterdon, Somerset and Morris counties, the percentage of minority teachers falls to single digits.