Do Afro-American Students, (Especially Boys) Have Better Outcomes in Classes Taught by Afro-American Male Teachers? Or, Are Rich Curriculum and Rigorous Standards the Pathway to Improve Outcomes for All Students?

My early morning infusion is a doppio from the neighborhood Starbucks, customers, all white, some tapping away on a laptop, most had cups nearby, others not. Needless to say no one was asking the non-drinkers to leave. For many, Starbucks is a virtual office, good WiFi, readily available beverages, and you can work away for hours. The Starbucks “incident,” the arrest of two black men can be described as an example of “implicit bias,”

Implicit bias,

Implicit bias is the automatic associations people have in their minds about groups of people, including stereotypes. It forms automatically and unintentionally, but results in attitudes, behaviors or actions that are prejudiced for or against a person or a group of people.

 Two black men, hanging out, must be “up for trouble; black men, regardless of their income or level of education can regale you with “incidents,” being hassled for being black, experiences that white men never can imagine, they have the protective coating of white privilege.

What is white privilege? It’s the level of societal advantage that comes with being seen as the norm in America, automatically conferred irrespective of wealth, gender or other factors. It makes life smoother, but it’s something you would barely notice unless it was suddenly taken away — or unless it had never applied to you in the first place …. a set of unearned assets that a white person in America can count on cashing in each day but to which they remain largely oblivious.

A few years ago I was at a conference, a session dealt with “culturally relevant pedagogy,” a controversial term. One of the participants commented. “They’re going to teach us to be black.” Yes, controversial.

It was the first day of a graduate class in a teacher preparation program, I began with an ice breaker, “What’s your philosophy of education, (smile) in one sentence.” I nodded to Muhammad, who responded, “All white people are racists; it all depends on how they deal with their racism.”

The class turned to me, “Interesting, I have to give it some thought.”

Some students reacted angrily, “How can you call me a racist, it’s insulting, you don’t know me.” Others agreed, “I’m a white kid from the suburbs, I worry constantly about how I’m going to relate to inner city kids of color, whether they will accept me.”

Was Muhammad a racist? Or, was he pointing to a fact: we all have implicit biases: do we recognize and attempt to alleviate the biases?

The mainstream education commenters emphasize the teaching/learning process: teachers are assessed by frameworks or rubrics, Charlotte DanielsonKim MarshallMarzano  and others, all aver that teaching behaviors are scientifically documented; however, there are key unanswered  questions:  Does a rigid adherence to a set of frameworks guarantee learning? Does the gender, race or ethnicity of the teacher impact student learning? Should we alter teaching strategies based on the gender, race or ethnicity of the student?

I come from the days of the developmental lesson that begins with a motivation: an activity, or a statement, or a cartoon, a brief activity to seize the attention and engage the student. It didn’t always work, was it the inadequacy of my motivation or the alienation of the students? Did my gender/ethnicity impact the effectiveness of my lesson?

I’ve met many teachers who claim, “I’m a really good teacher; some kids just don’t care.” Are they “really good teachers?” Are there kids who “really don’t care”? Is there a classroom triage: we teach the kids we can reach? For many of us failures haunt us: what could we have done differently?

We’re encouraged to differentiate, to change/alter instructional strategies to match the needs of individual kids. If gender/ethnicity of a teacher impacts the teaching/learning process how can teachers alter practices to make up for “belonging” to the “wrong” gender/ethnicity?

There is growing evidence that Afro-American students, especially male students, have better academic outcomes in classes taught by Afro-American teachers.

Read articles here, here and here.

The “why” question is complex: implicit bias? lack of cultural competency? We don’t actually know.

Over the last few decades a new theory has entered the world of education: the theory of culturally competent pedagogy: teaching strategies to match the culture of the students, In Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom, Lisa Delpit delves into the question of cultures,

A connecting theme throughout the book is how power imbalances and cultural conflicts within classrooms occur within a larger society that nurtures and maintains stereotypes. The culprit in these situations is not simply racism, though it certainly plays a part. It is the reluctance of people, especially those with power and privilege, “to perceive those different from themselves except through their own culturally clouded vision.” This inability is particularly destructive in classrooms where teachers view low-income and minority children as “other” and “see damaged and dangerous caricatures of the vulnerable and impressionable beings before them” 

New York State is in the process of establishing competencies for school leaders, The “Principal Preparation Project Advisory Team Preliminary Set of Consensus Recommendations,” uses the term “culture” a number of times.

 * Recognize, respect, and employ each student’s strengths, diversity, and culture  as assets for teaching and learning. Ensure that each student has equitable access to effective teachers, learning opportunities, academic and social support, and other resources necessary for success.

 * Confront and alter institutional biases of student marginalization, deficit-based schooling, and low expectations associated with race, class, culture and language, gender and sexual orientation, and disability or special status.

* Promote the preparation of students to live productively in and contribute to the diverse cultural contexts of a global society.

What the numerous mentions of culture  fails to do is to define culture.

An NYU team takes a deep dive in the world of culturally responsive education (D’Andrea,  Montalbano, & Kirkland, (2017), Culturally Responsive Education: A Primer for Policy and Practice), The authors, citing numerous research studies endorse the impact of culturally responsive education (CRE) and explores the challenges,

… the challenge is how to solidify the theory of cultural responsiveness into concrete policies and practices that can support learning for all students. To this extent, its critical lens has been applied to curriculum, classroom design, instruction, home-school relationships, disciplinary policies, and school-wide initiatives to promote equity, social justice, community outreach, improvements to school climate, and academic achievement.

The authors acknowledge the gap between research and the classroom practice.

  Given all this rich scholarship, policymakers and practitioners alike are left with the obvious question: “What do we do with all this?” Assuming everyone accepts the general premises of the largely theoretical research and what quantitative data do exist, what is culturally responsive education? Is it a curriculum? A teacher training protocol or program? An accountability system? Can it be any or all of them? The scholars who helped shape and expand this philosophy differ in both specific and vague ways on such questions.

David Steiner and Robert Pondisico, major education voices, may disagree, and may blame efforts to use race/ethnicity and culture “schemes” for failing to increase outcomes for children of color. I believe they would argue that a rich curriculum and high standards are the only pathway and culturally relevant pedagogy may sidetrack and result in lower standards, effectively, an example of implicit bias.

 A principal friend (black) was in a school waiting in the office to meet with the principal, the dean (white) escorted two girls (black) into office aggressively chastising them, “Fighting is unacceptable, I’d suspend both of you, this isn’t the first time …wait for the principal, it’s up to her.”

My friend walked over to the two girls, who were glowering at each other,

“You girls like Carti – b?”

They were surprised, a teacher, even a black teacher knowing about the latest big voice in hip-hop.

He asked, “Do you know she doesn’t write her own songs, she buys songs.”

One of the girls knew, the other didn’t, my friend engaged the girls in conversation – the principal came out of her office and began to chastise the girls for fighting.

Both girls turned to the principal, “Everything’s cool,” and walked away continuing the discussion.

I asked my friend, “An example of culturally relevant pedagogy?”

My principal friend smiled: “Experience: knowing 12-year olds and the art of distraction, move the conversation away from fighting to a topic that engages them, deal with the fighting later”

I asked, “Culturally relevant pedagogy?”

He laughed, “I’d say a few decades dealing with kids in inner city environments.”

Teaching is about connecting with your students, understanding the world of your students, “catching them” wherever they are and bringing them to where you want them to be.

Yes,  a Black or Latinx or an Asian teacher might  have an initial advantage, a leg up in relating to the student, might become that role model that changes lives, or on the other hand the “advantage” might fade, the teacher might not have the requisite teaching skills.

If culturally relevant education can be taught, can it be translated into engaging students, or, is it an implicit bias from the left, is it a trompe d’oeil?

The most effective teachers have the largest and deepest tool bags.


One response to “Do Afro-American Students, (Especially Boys) Have Better Outcomes in Classes Taught by Afro-American Male Teachers? Or, Are Rich Curriculum and Rigorous Standards the Pathway to Improve Outcomes for All Students?

  1. what a disgrace!I began my career teaching@The Frederick Douglass JHS on 139th and Lennox. The staff to be sure was multi cultural and multi skin toned. s anyone in education will tell you, you can’t teach if you have no control. Control or classroom management was asserted often by African American teachers and Deans via the use of the most harsh corporal punishment methods. White Teachers of course would not dare to use such methods. during my time at that school, I served as a Guidance Counselor, and then Ap, part of my duties involved placing newly arrived African american kids to NY from southern locations. After administering a 10 min “intake” reading test to get an idea of reading level, I would make the class placement judgement. In every case the boys parent asked me if the teacher was black or white. They preferred the white teacher because they didn’t want a black one using paddles or taped together 18″ rulers for discipline. They also believed that the white ones went to better colleges. Contrary to that, as a teenager, I attended DeWitt Clinton HS and my official teacher and bio teacher was a Mr. Jones, who was kind and genteel in his methods. The point being to all of this, is that if you cater to this separatist view as to how to educate our youngsters, you are narrowing their chances of having success in the mainstream. You are fostering segregation, and re-enforcing all the negatives that existed in the 50’s and 60’s, and have over the years been suppressed.I wonder how many African American Teachers would like the idea of them being tracked to employment in only those schools with African American students. Some might. By and large however, the very notion of enacting such a policy to me is repugnant.


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