Every Child Deserves an Excellent Education
All of our children deserve an excellent education so they are positioned to share in the abundance of life. Our community needs all of its young people prepared to become active and engaged citizens possessing the knowledge and skills required to move us forward. And yet, Minnesota’s graduation gap between black and white students ranks among the worst in the United States. This is unacceptable.
Studies that looked at black boys in the elementary grades who did or didn’t have a black male teacher showed dramatically different outcomes: those with a black male teacher were 29% less likely to drop out of school years later (this number was 39% for very low income black students).
Other studies demonstrate that students learn more when taught by a teacher of the same color and ethnicity. These students score higher in math and reading at a statistically meaningful level. This situation serves white students well – because most teachers are white.
Our students of color do not have this same opportunity. There is much to the teacher-student dynamic which can cause these disparities, including the role model effect (having a teacher that “looks like me,”) and the racial effect (studies show that black teachers have higher expectations of black students than do white teachers).
The demographics of our community are changing and nowhere is this more apparent than in the hallways and classrooms of our schools. The Minneapolis and St Paul public school systems serve approximately 70% students of color while the teacher corps is only 17% of color. These trends are occurring in suburban districts and charter schools as well.
A World of Difference
What is the effect on a child’s sense of self if he or she sees only teachers who do not look like them and do not relate to their life experiences? What is the cumulative effect on a black child, who after 6 years in elementary school, has seen only white teachers and administrators?
A black man understands the life of a black child in a way that another person cannot. And that makes a world of difference in how the black student sees himself, how he comes to value (or not) education, where he sees himself in the future, and what he does in the future.
The fact is that while cultural competency is a skill all teachers can, and should, learn to better serve all of their students, there are additional social, academic and emotional benefits for students of color when they are taught by teachers who look like them.