Does Race Matter? President Carter, Obama, Patterson and the NYC Teaching Corps, Should We Be Concerned About the Declining Numbers of Afro-American Teachers?

Former President Jimmy Carter raised a question that was simmering beneath the surface since election day, 2008.
”I think it’s based on racism,” Carter said in response to an audience question at a town hall held at his presidential center in Atlanta. ”There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.”

The Georgia Democrat said the outburst was a part of a disturbing trend directed at the president that has included demonstrators equating Obama to Nazi leaders.

”Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care,” he said. ”It’s deeper than that.”

Carter’s riff unleashed a hail of commentary. Afro-American  op ed-ers in the NY Times disagree, Charles M. Blow  sees “shades of gray,” while Bob Herbert  chuckles, is there any doubt?

Since race is on top of the 24/7 news cycle let me stoke the flames, does the race of a teacher/principal  impact student achievement?

There is a paucity of research, undoubtedly due to the possible consequences, if, in fact, the research is clear cut, that race matters, isn’t this an argument for schools segregated by the race of the staff?

In 2001 a Study found that, “…Models of student achievement indicate that a one-year assignment to an own-race teacher significantly increased the math and reading achievement of both black and white students by roughly three to four percentile points.

Thomas Dee in his 2004 Study “The Race Connection”  avers, “…  among black students, the benefits of having a black teacher were concentrated in schools with higher levels of disadvantage and racial segregation.” However the study questions the teacher quality issue, were the white teachers of equal or lower ability?

A 2007 Study reworks the Dee data and concludes, “Dee’s result is found after confirming that there was no association between assignment of an own-race teacher and student characteristics, i.e., sorting of students did not transpire. We extend Dee’s work by including the effects of student innate ability and teacher gender on student achievement. Our findings indicate that once these two variables are taken into consideration, sorting of students does transpire, and matching students and teachers of similar race has no statistically significant affect on student achievement.

Claude M. Steele  opines that “stereotype threat” may play a major role in diminished achievement among Afro-American college students, “When capable black students fail to perform as well as their white counterparts, the explanation often has less to do with preparation or ability than with the threat of stereotypes about their capacity to succeed.”

The percent of Afro-American teachers in NYC has declined steadily since the beginning of the Children First Klein initiative, down 10%. (from 22% to 20%).

The Tweed leadership is overwhelmingly white, and male.

The lesson du jour these days is the workshop model. A significant part of a lesson is devoted to a collaborative activity, groups of students working on a problem, reviewing subsets of “data,” perhaps measuring and charting, finding the main idea, analyzing documents, the students, as a group, discuss their analysis and reduce their findings to a report, maybe filling out a prepared guide, and, reporting back to the whole class, and having the class comment on their findings.

All too frequently the teacher struggles, kids “socialize,” wander away, pout, and as the teacher moves from group to group s/he urges, orders, cajoles, pleads and “negotiates” with the students. The reports, unfortunately, too often reflect the work of only one or two kids in the group, and, is well below standards.

The lesson “succeeded,” but the patient?

I’ve watched Afro-American teachers who are incredibly strict and demanding. The kids must enter the classroom in an orderly manner, take their seats, open their books and commence work. The teachers asks questions, demands response, no excuses, no backtalk.

Lisa Delpit, writing in 1996, “described how popular progressive pedagogies of that time like Whole language, while claiming to represent the best learning of all students, did not in fact match the learning needs of the culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students with whom she worked.”

A white teacher with many years of service complained to me about his younger Afro-American principal and invited me to his classroom. He clearly knew the material, was well-prepared, however, the kids were disengaged, restless, and some misbehaved. I asked him, “How did you think it went?” He replied, “It was as good as you can expect from these kids.”

He complained that the principal “called him out,” told him that everyone, from the kids to the teachers and the principal had a responsibility to get better each and every day. From the first year teacher to the twenty-five year teacher, and he would not accept the comment “these kids” as an excuse.

In my view the principal, who was Afro-American, was correct.

At the end of the school day the principal pointed at the window, “It’s like a Le Mans start, the race to the ‘burbs,’ some are good teachers, but for most of them it’s only a  9-3 job.”

Clearly a complex issue: Why do Caribbean teachers and Afro-American kids frequently clash? Why Afro-American teachers from the suburbs, who have no rapport with inner city students accept below standard work?

Michael Meyers in a NY Daily New op ed writes, “Being black is not enough.”

Up to date data shows that 76% of NYC school system students are of color, 34% of the staff, should this be of concern?

I have seen Afro-American principals and teachers who failed their students, and extraordinary white teachers, however black teachers/principals can be role models and mentors.

I was walking down a street with a black teacher, kids walked by and greeted him by name, adults nodded, he saw the quizzical look on my face. “I’ve been a teacher, a dean and a coach, I live in the community, they know me I know them. I don’t take any crap, I tell them they have to work twice as hard to succeed, and may of them do.”

How do you measure and reward his contribution?

The subtext of every conversation is race, gender and class, and, we shouldn’t avoid difficult conversations.

One response to “Does Race Matter? President Carter, Obama, Patterson and the NYC Teaching Corps, Should We Be Concerned About the Declining Numbers of Afro-American Teachers?

  1. Pingback: Remainders: Duncan to praise NCLB in speech tomorrow | GothamSchools

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