Inside the Decade-Long Plan to Recruit, Hire and Retain 9,000 Black Educators Across the Country

Mar 1, 2021 12:00:00 AM


Across the entire United States, there aren’t nearly enough Black teachers inside classrooms. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, less than 7% of teachers nationwide are Black; only 1.5% of teachers are Black men. That is a problem because Black teachers are a force for equity for all students, especially the Black students who have been historically marginalized. 

Students of all backgrounds who miss out on Black teachers lack exposure to their content knowledge and pedagogical praxis, which is often influenced by their desire to support all students, particularly students they see themselves in. In addition, a 2016 study showed that students perceived Black teachers more favorably than white teachers. When students say that, they are telling us something about the quality of learning and support they are receiving from Black teachers.

Moreover, [pullquote]Black teachers support the academic achievement of all students, and Black students in particular.[/pullquote] Black students who have had at least one Black teacher are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college and are less likely to drop out of school. Black students are also less likely to receive exclusionary discipline at the hands of a Black teacher. 

According to the same 2016 study, students perceived Black teachers (more than their White peers) to hold students to high academic standards, to support their efforts, to help them organize content and to explain ideas clearly and provide feedback. The study also showed that Asian American students preferred Black teachers even more than did Black students.

Although some continue to question whether Black teachers make a difference for students, research provides a definitive answer: Black teachers matter. Yes, teacher quality is important, however, qualitative researchers have long observed (e.g., Nieto, Ladson-Billings, and Warren) and recent causal relationships found by quantitative researchers (e.g., Ouazad, Egalite, and Gershenson) point to the “added value” for students of color taught by teachers of color.

Knowing this research, [pullquote]what are we going to do about recruiting Black teacher candidates, getting them hired and keeping them inside classrooms?[/pullquote]

Today, we take another step toward answering that critical question. Today, the Center for Black Educator Development will launch the Black Teacher Pipeline. We launch with the support of many partners, including the Laura and Gary Lauder Family Venture Philanthropy Fund, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Spring Point Partners, Alice Walton through the Walton Family Foundation and Education Leaders of Color.

[pullquote position="right"]The Black Teacher Pipeline will be a national educational justice campaign[/pullquote], and will offer the Black Educators of Excellence Fellowship, a new fellowship program in partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), to recruit and financially and professionally inspire and support the next generation of Black educators across the country.

With this initiative, we’re not reinventing the wheel; rather, we’re building on the rich work of scholars and practitioners, with the hope of contributing a model that can be replicated by school districts and advocacy organizations alike. 

Why launch a Black teacher pipeline that is both expansive and comprehensive? Because the pipeline as it stands is in need of repair. 

A foundational leak in the current pipeline is caused by the over-disciplining of Black students. Why would Black students desire to become teachers if they associate teaching with their experiences of suspension and possible arrests? 

Another leak is created by both the high cost of teacher certification and biased performance testing. These “initiation” procedures cost more money, take more time, and require the teacher aspirants to do more work—all of which could deter low-income and minority teacher candidates who were already faring worse, on average, on the less rigorous state-administered certification tests.

There are also many forms of the invisible tax that facilitates the departure of Black teachers from the profession. Rather than being utilized for their content expertise, Black teachers are often relegated to serving as disciplinarians. When evaluated for their teaching, Black teachers receive lower scores than white or Latinx teachers. According to a 2019 study, Black teachers are less likely to get a low evaluation score in schools with more Black colleagues, but the overall shortage of Black teachers guarantees that many work in environments where they have few colleagues like themselves.

This Black Teacher Pipeline looks to address these leaks and more. 

The Black Teacher Pipeline will engage Black high school and college students as teacher pre-apprentices, sponsor them through fellowship, apprenticeships, and scholarship, and support them with mentorship and professional learning opportunities through their first four years in the classroom. 

In the spirit of Philadelphia 76ers legend Moses Malone’s Fo, Fo Fo, championship prognostication, this pipeline will offer apprentices support during their four years of high school, their four years of college and their first four years in the teaching profession. 

With our partner organizations, this national campaign will codify and expand clinical and virtual ‘to and through’ strategies, as well as create affinity spaces for students across the country to interact with one another as they embark on their journey into the teaching profession and through certification. Our goal is to collaborate with our partners to develop scalable methods that allow communities nationwide to create their own Black Teacher Pipeline consortia, showing what works and how others can emulate it.

This initiative is about building an even stronger pipeline, with no leaks. 

Those Black students who join the Black Teacher Pipeline will benefit from our partnership with the United Negro College Fund, due to our Black Educators of Excellence Fellowship Program; a program that will establish a scholarship fund to provide tuition for teacher apprentices. This, all to deliver on our mission to dramatically increase the number of Black teachers. 

[pullquote]Our goal for this campaign is to bring at least 21,000 Black students into the teaching pipeline and 9,100 teachers into the profession over its initial 12-year program in ten communities across the country.[/pullquote] We’re starting this spring with ten Philadelphia-based students, who will be the recipients of the inaugural Black Educators of Excellence Fellowship scholarship awards.

It is also our goal that this campaign will inspire thousands more prospective Black educators as well as school districts indirectly through outreach and dissemination of promising practices.

This work is critical to the education of Black children nationwide. We owe it Black families who entrust schools with the care of the persons of most value, their children. With this initiative, we hope to express to those parents, that we too value their children. 

Now, let’s get to work.

Join us. If you are interested in supporting this initiative, signing up your organization to partner with us, or if you’re looking for more information, you can reach out to us at this link.  

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development. The Center exists to ensure there will be equity in the recruiting, training, hiring, and retention of quality educators that reflect the cultural backgrounds and share common socio-political interests of the students they serve. The Center is developing a nationally relevant model to measurably increase teacher diversity and support Black educators through four pillars: Professional learning, Pipeline, Policies and Pedagogy. So far, the Center has developed ongoing and direct professional learning and coaching opportunities for Black teachers and other educators serving students of color. The Center also carries forth the freedom or liberation school legacy by hosting a Freedom School that incorporates research-based curricula and exposes high school and college students to the teaching profession to help fuel a pipeline of Black educators. Prior to founding the Center, El-Mekki served as a nationally recognized principal and U.S. Department of Education Principal Ambassador Fellow. El-Mekki’s school, Mastery Charter Shoemaker, was recognized by President Obama and Oprah Winfrey, and was awarded the prestigious EPIC award for three consecutive years as being amongst the top three schools in the country for accelerating students’ achievement levels. The Shoemaker Campus was also recognized as one of the top ten middle school and top ten high schools in the state of Pennsylvania for accelerating the achievement levels of African-American students. Over the years, El-Mekki has served as a part of the U.S. delegation to multiple international conferences on education. He is also the founder of the Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, an organization dedicated to recruiting, retaining, and developing Black male teachers. El-Mekki blogs on Philly's 7th Ward, is a member of the 8 Black Hands podcast, and serves on several boards and committees focused on educational and racial justice.

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