WASHINGTON — Teacher shortages are at an all-time high across the country, especially for Black teachers.
According to the most recent federal data, only seven percent of all teachers nationwide are Black. That’s compared to 79 percent who are white.
Teachers say diversifying the classroom can have a major impact on a child’s education.
“I just really appreciate how he kept it kept his culture, how he was so intentional about being authentic in the classroom,” said teacher Kurt Russell. “Everyone loved Mr. Thomas because he was true, and he was real and I saw in him myself.”
That was 8th grade and the first time Kurt Russell had a Black teacher. He said this example set by Mr. Thomas inspired him to pursue a career in education.
Now Russell is a history teacher in Ohio, and the 2022 National Teacher of the Year.
“When you see someone that looks like you that is having fun, that’s enjoying a profession, it makes you say to yourself, ‘wow there’s something special about being a teacher,’” said Russell.
A Johns Hopkins University study shows Black students who had at least one Black teacher experienced improved outcomes including higher graduation rates.
Russell believes this impact also goes beyond grades.
“For so long, we have had Black children who have been traumatized by school being removed from class, being suspended, expelled,” said Russell. “So if we could provide a good experience for our children, I think that can to help with this pipeline of educators.”
Former teacher Lavar Edmonds says another solution is turning Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
“It’s a low-cost initiative - the colleges are they exist. They are producing the teachers,” said Edmonds. “It’s really a question of, are you actively looking to recruit them? Are you actively seeking to get them into your schools and into your classrooms?”
In his recent study, Edmonds reviewed nearly ten years’ worth of data from North Carolina elementary school students. Edmonds found Black students performed better in math when they were taught by HBUC graduates. He said both Black and White HBCU-trained teachers are more effective with Black students.
“If you’re on HBCU campus, there’s a particular potential for a wealth of knowledge, you can sort of learn and absorb when you’re in a community, a climate that is made for and by Black students and Black professors,” said Edmonds.
The Biden Administration says HBCU’s play a role in diversifying classrooms. This year, the U.S. Department of Education announced $18 million in awards for HBCUs and other minority serving institutions.
This week on Capitol Hill, several Senate Democrats introduced new legislation that would set minimum pay at $60,000 a year for teachers to incentivize recruitment and retainment.
Republicans haven’t responded directly to this proposal. But many GOP lawmakers are critical of Democratic efforts to cancel federal student loan debt because they argue it’s too expensive.
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