This morning, I came across this article on Huffington Post (I know, I know, hear me out, though) and thought I should ask questions about President Obama’s initiative to enforce former President George W. Bush’s mandates for “excellent teachers” to stay in the highest-need communities. Read this:
President Barack Obama’s new initiative, titled “Excellent Educators For All,” seeks to ensure that states comply with the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind mandate by asking state officials to submit “comprehensive educator equity plans” that detail how states plan to put quality educators in classrooms with disadvantaged students. The Department of Education also plans to pour millions of dollars into a “Education Equity Support Network” and publish profiles of states and districts that have succeeded in promoting teacher equity.
For one, I’m usually skeptical about any initiative that attempts excellence when we haven’t defined (or even characterized) what actual excellence is. For instance, people often describe an excellent teacher as “caring,” but isolating “caring” as a characteristic would be short-sighted in terms of identifying the best teachers. Even something like the Danielson Framework can’t quite pinpoint because numbers aren’t always facts.
Secondly, I often see people who talk up teacher quality not address the issue of working conditions. People too often make working conditions and teacher quality a chicken and an egg argument. There were presumably eggs before chickens, and so it goes that working conditions of a school generally support good teachers and keep them. Of course, there will be special cases that don’t fit the mold, but that tends to be the way it goes.
Here’s the thing: in my observations, teachers of color will stay in underserved communities where others won’t.
If you look at the graphs for the full picture, you’re basically seeing that richer, whiter schools get more experienced, more educated (at least in number of degrees) and more certified teachers, which seems to contradict a few narratives, mainly that the number of years and degrees don’t matter in terms of student performance. While this might have some external validity, I don’t see how anyone would choose a school that doesn’t have at least some experienced, educated, and certified staff. Unless they’re in a private or charter school, where restrictions on degrees or certifications are more lenient, at least in most urban areas.
Unless they’re in the high-need neighborhoods, which is code for schools with poor students of color.
Teachers of color aren’t only needed in these high-need neighborhoods, they are predominantly in these high-need schools. This, among other reasons I’m sure, is why, when schools get shut down in droves as they have in the last decade, teachers of color lose their jobs with those schools. From the plethora of educators of color I’ve spoken to, with various degrees, experiences, and backgrounds, they stay in certain schools because they came into teaching to serve children of color, and aren’t necessarily looking for career advancement.
Yet, because the working conditions didn’t work and the systems in place were neither conducive nor supportive of children of color and their teachers, they either stay and hope to wither the storm or, increasingly with much younger teachers of color, leave altogether to pursue other education-related professions where they can work on behalf of students without being tied to the classroom.
That’s why, by 2020, we may see a drop from 18% teachers of color to 5% teachers of color, and with male teachers of color already at 3%, this may certainly perpetuate the inequity we’re seeing in student achievement. More importantly, this threatens to make schools feel less inequitable.
But our country stays taking shortcuts to equity instead of making a real investment. More on this soon.