Teacher Quality And The Decline In Teachers of Color

Jose VilsonResources10 Comments


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.


photo c/o

Comments 10

  1. It would be interesting to know if the educators of color you spoke with are from across different schools, or within a school, because I think that makes a difference when determining the quality of teachers, level of instruction and education received by students. I may be bitter as a former Chicago Public Schools’ student, and whose four brothers were also CPS students in West Side schools, but I did not find the caliber of educators of color that you speak of. I think that this belief or feeling by many parents of color, at least in Chicago, led to the initial support of the change that charter schools promised. I call it, “something else”. That is something else that is different from the school that for, at least a couple of generations of families, had poorly educated students of color. In this regard, parents are not necessarily embracing charter schools, but embracing something else. I don’t think that charter schools are the answer for public education, and believe these schools and their leadership targets and exploits the communities of color desire for “something else”. We can’t simply return to what was happening before charter schools. Because that was messed up to.

  2. I am a black female and older teacher. I am tired of people blaming public schools and the teachers because the federal government under the NCLB wants to claim urban students aren’t learning. The government is basing this ridiculous theory off of standardized tests that outside agencies get paid millions of dollars to make up. I know that Camden, NJ parents only get the scores they want the parents to have. They don’t get copies of their child’s actual test. They really have no credible proof if their child actually passed or failed. America’ s goal is to sell all public schools to the highest bidder. They know it is easier to start in urban America because urban parents would buy anything. Urban public schools’ problems are the parents (too many) who send their child to school undisciplined, tired, hungry and unprepared. They don’t check on their child’s homework the night before, they probably didn’t know they had homework. They don’t show up on open house or report card night. As an African America I am ashamed of urban people because Duncan and his business partners care nothing about urban students. It is about making money off of them. This is the new slavery (charter schools) replacing urban public schools. In Camden, NJ parents lost their rights to vote for their own school board members and they are sitting like bumps on a log standing on the corners or on their cell phones or Facebook as their kids are standing on the auction block being sold to the highest bidder. Back in the day white teachers taught in urban schools but as the economy got better they left and blacks and hispanics taught. Now the economy isn’t doing well and young white teachers are being recruited to teach in the cities as a way of paying back their student loans. They and urban parents are being brainwashed into believing the only people who can teach urban kids are young white teachers. Pres. Obama and Duncan need to send friends of theirs to urban schools to see what teachers are going through. Everything I drive into Camden I don’t know if I will be shot, stopped by confused police officers for no reason, threatened by a student or parent or bullied or harassed by my principal who hates me because I have been teaching so long, I am old and he wants younger teachers. We as urban Americans need to fix what we broke. We need to stop depending on the man to fix something they helped to destroy. What we really need to do is return prayer back to public schools. And let God handle the rest. So Pres. Obama legislate prayer to return to all public schools and leave teachers alone and get rid if the NCLB.

    1. “As an African America I am ashamed of urban people because Duncan and his business partners care nothing about urban students.”

      Why would you be ashamed of urban people? Why isn’t this a reason to be ashamed of Duncan (and, by extension, Obama)? Why are you blaming the victims?

  3. This is not only about teacher of color but it is about discriminating against older teachers too. So this who so called Educational reform is discrimination against blacks, hispanics and older educators. The goal is to employ young whites who will stay long enough to pay off their student loans. They won’t be paying into a state pension plan because they won’t be there long enough. Now a state like NJ who is going broke will be happy. NJ wouldn’t have to be bothered with pensions anymore. They are also discriminating against urban schools. The selling of urban public schools to charter school organizations is happening in urban areas. I would like to see Pres. Obama come to Camden, NJ. spend a week in a couple of the projects, sit in the classrooms and walk the streets. Live the life of an urban resident and an urban teacher before you pass judgement and close public schools or call urban students and teachers failures. Come to Camden, NJ. Live our lifes.

  4. After reading your article and trying to communicate with the Federal Department of Education I have realized that Pres. Obama is just following a law put in place by a former president who cared nothing about blacks. Remember it was Pres. Bush who allowed the devastation caused by Katrina in New Orleans to continue. The people mostly affected were blacks. This phony so called better education for urban students is just a ploy to increase capitalism for corporations, get rid of mostly black teachers and older teachers. How can you help people you don’t know anything about. And if Pres. Obama doesn’t care you know Duncan doesn’t. The closing of urban public schools , the bullying of teachers, using evaluations to unfairly fire teachers, using of urban students so businesses and corporations can profit is horrible. The lesson I have learned is to have my faith in God not man. I am praying for all of the teachers losing their jobs , for those being bullied or harassed because we are black, old and didn’t graduated from a well know college and the students being used so others can profit. I also pray that urban parents will stand up and protect their urban public schools. This is the newest form of slavery in America. And just as the Europeans gave gifts to Africans to sell their own people to them so they can bring them to America to sell them into slavery, the federal, state and city governments are allowing corporations to convince urban parents to sell their own children to charter schools. The only thing left for me is to pray to God in faith that he will send his message that he wants his name praised in public schools. My faith and trust will no longer be in man no matter what his color is.

  5. Because we as blacks have to admit to our mistakes. We need to stop blaming the world for everything that has and is happening to us. Urban parents need to send their children to school to learn. I am not saying all of them don’t but to many urban parents are sending them to to school for babysitting. A lot of urban students come to school angry, hungry , undisciplined , unprepared and unloved. Open house and report night teachers sit and wait for parents who never show up. I remember asking two black parents why they were putting their children in a charter school. One replied because they start at six and end at six plus they have a lot of trips. The other parent replied they are giving me a nook. I waited to hear one tell me it was for academic reasons. Black folks are the only group of people who are being told you can’t learn in public schools, you must have alternative schools, Charter schools, young white teachers. Our kids can learn in public schools if their parents would discipline them, love them, come to report night, make sure their child comes to school prepared and take an active role in their child’s school. And that means they may have to put the cellphone away and get off of facebook. Don’t get angry at me for telling the truth, that is the only way changes can be made. Now about Duncan, he is a businessman who never taught. His entire goal is to get out of public education completely. He knows it is easy to destroy public education in the cities for the reasons I just gave you. I have written to him along with other people asking to meet with him to talk about the issues that hinder the black community and the public schools. He will not meet with any of us. His concerns are selling urban public schools and later he will be after the suburban public schools. Although I am sure the people in the suburbs will put up a fight. And Pres. Obama, yes he confuses me too. But remember he was a senator when Duncan closed the public schools in Chicago. So we shouldn’t be surprised that he supports Duncan. I am tired of people talking about inequality in urban public schools. Perhaps this might not have occurred if it does if the federal government saw to it that the Brown vs the Board of Education was fulfilled. Public schools, like the neighborhoods are divided on racial lines , Brown vs Board of Education is ignored and people are talking about inequality in urban schools. I have an idea why can’t Duncan and Pres. Obama live in urban America for two weeks. Maybe then they can see it isn’t the public schools it is what the federal, state, city governments and parents are not during to help the children.

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  7. I hear in Nicole’s comments the same frustration I’ve also heard from other veteran Black teachers around the country who find themselves under attack by a system and a media that has never done what it should or could have done to support our work.
    Jose, your look at the stats are correct, and so is your take on them. Many teachers of color have dedicated their lives to working under horrible conditions (which means the conditions for the students are equally bad) out of love for our students and our communities. We’ve commonly had to do more for our students with much less than our colleagues, often by design (I’ve blogged on this recently > http://www.teachingquality.org/content/ending-inequitable-funding). Also, this is not just an urban issue; these same problems are happening out here in the rural communities and schools as well.

    Our parents (including those of us who are parents and teachers) are not a monolithic group, and yes many of them are confused and rightfully frustrated about what is happening in and to our public schools. They are getting mostly negative messages from the general media; many, as Shani b pointed out, have had bad experiences with public schools themselves. With more and more quality teachers of color being pushed or rushed out of the system, the community grows even more unsettled about what their children will experience. I would like to see more educators of color, particularly those of us who are highly accomplished, be more articulate about the real issues and needs that our students and we as educators are facing. That’s one reason I’m grateful for teachers like Jose and all the writing/speaking he does because it helps people see what’s going on inside school through a broader lens.

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