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Racial disparities in schools: Pilot program sets out to level playing field for teachers, students

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Posted at 3:41 PM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 20:00:05-04

It’s back to school time. Parents have collected the school supplies and met with the teachers, but educators are noting a big disparity in the number of teachers who are white versus Black. Nationwide, 84% are white compared to 8% who are Black.

Growing up, Tommie Love remembers hearing gunshots as he went to sleep. He used “Harry Potter” as an escape to a different world. Now, he wants to expose others to a different world: teaching.

“It is so important to be able to relate to who is in front of you in the classroom in some shape or form,” Love said.

A recent study randomly assigned Black students to at least one Black teacher in kindergarten through third grade. Those students were 13% more likely to graduate from high school and 19% more likely to enroll in college. That research came out in 2020.

In 2012, the Shanker Institute took a hard look at demographics from nine of the nation’s larger school districts.

Leo Casey is with the Shanker Institute. He says while the numbers of students of color were increasing and were indeed becoming a majority of students in the United States public education system, the numbers of teachers of color lagged far, far behind.

“Most disturbingly, in those cities that we examined, the numbers of African American teachers were falling at that range from cities where there was a sort of minor drop to cities where there were catastrophic drops like New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Chicago,” Shanker said.

He adds that school districts were at least at the point where they had to acknowledge there was a serious problem and try to do something about it.

Some districts created “task forces.” The Cleveland Metropolitan School District found success elsewhere.

“Cleveland is a very generous city, and I think that the community in general really, truly embraces public education, which then motivates instructional teachers and principals to stay,” said Lori Ward, the district’s chief talent and equity officer.

Ward says her district is seeing progress. When the Shanker Institute released their results, Cleveland’s student population was nearly 65% Black. Its teachers? Only 23%.

Ward says a dream number for her would have the diversity of the instructional adults would match the diversity of the student population. That means recruiting from that population.

High school principal Sara Kidner came up with a plan.

“So, our program is called Read Like Me. Really, the premise behind it is to give students the opportunity to try out the education field in a paid internship program,” said Kidner.

As the principal at Cleveland’s John Marshall Civic and Business Leadership High School, she came up with the program as an effort to not only excite younger students to read but also inspire older students to teach.

“So, we're giving them this education experience of working in an elementary building, learning about literacy skills, doing the research about why it's so important,” Kidner said. “With that mentorship program and working with other teachers, they start to see themselves as that leader and that teacher and see that as a viable career pathway for themselves in education.”

For teachers like Tommie Love, it’s a passion they’re happy to share.

“The only experiences they had were the one side of the table and giving them the experience of working with younger kids and being that role model, being sort of the adult in the room, the sage on the stage. That really lets them see, ‘Hey, I can be an educator, I can be a leader and I can teach others the skills that perhaps they still need to work on.’ It’s a two-way street. You’re helping them to learn and you’re learning as well along the way.”