To Achieve Educational Justice, We Need More Black Teachers

Voices | Diversity and Equity

To Achieve Educational Justice, We Need More Black Teachers

By Sharif El-Mekki     Sep 9, 2021

We need more Black teachers. A lot more.

While Black students account for 15 percent of all public schools students in the U.S., Black teachers make up just 7 percent of the teacher workforce. Worse, teachers who identify as Black men make up less than 2 percent of the workforce. To reach proportional parity between Black teachers and students, we would need 280,000 more Black teachers in our public schools.

It’s a staggering shortfall that has real consequences for our students and our communities.

The majority of students never have a Black teacher at all from kindergarten to 12th grade, which is a travesty. Multiple rigorous studies have shown the positive impact of teacher diversity on all learners, but especially Black students. When Black students have at least one Black teacher by 3rd grade, they’re 13 percent more likely to enroll in college. With two Black teachers, they are 32 percent more likely to go to college. For low-income Black boys, their on-time high school graduation rate climbs by nearly 40 percent.

All of this is why the Center for Black Educator Development, a national nonprofit created to build a national Black teacher pipeline and where I serve as CEO, is launching the national campaign #WeNeedBlackTeachers, and we are kicking it off with a national day of action on Sept. 9.

The goals of our effort are to raise awareness around the shortage of Black teachers and to inspire more young people to consider teaching as a career. Our aim is to add more than 21,000 Black students to the teaching pipeline over the next decade.

Admittedly, we have big hurdles to overcome. For most Black young people, their own public school experience is dominated by massive resource scarcity, hyper segregation, disproportionate discipline and diminished expectations by majority white educators. Add to that a teacher education system that has largely failed to recruit, embrace, support and retain aspiring Black and brown educators, and it’s no wonder young people of color largely look elsewhere for their vocations.

But our message is simple: To be a Black educator is an act of resistance, to teach Black children well is a step toward liberation. Being a Black teacher means choosing to be an activist on the frontlines of the fight for educational justice and equity—a fight that has always been led by our young people.

Being a Black teacher means being part of and a leader within a community that knows and values Black lives. It also means contributing to the safety of and broader justice within those communities. It is an empowering and revolutionary act to be an excellent Black teacher, for both the educator and the students they serve.

More than a year after the death of George Floyd and the summer of Black Lives Matter protests that followed it, the passion and commitment of Black young people to the cause of antiracism, justice and social progress has only grown. We see it in the massive increases in applications to and enrollment in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the explosion of Gen Z social activism overall.

Black young people are once again meeting the moment with a fearless determination in the face of centuries of injustice. We’ll need every ounce of that swelling passion and commitment to close the massive opportunity gaps that dominate our public education system—a glaring articulation of that historic injustice.

Getting more Black teachers in the classroom will improve student trajectories immediately, and the resulting positive associations with education will benefit the future students of a growing Black teacher corps.

That’s a win-win and that’s why #WeNeedBlackTeachers.

(Above photo by MBI / Shutterstock)

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