New Cause for Alarm: Too Many White Teachers, Not Enough Black

Source: “Report on the Recommendations of the Taskforce to Diversify Virginia’s Educator Pipeline.”

Seeking to close the educational achievement gap between whites on the one hand and African-Americans and Hispanics on the other, the Virginia Department of Education has found a new focus: an insufficient number of “teachers of color.”

Even as the number of minorities in Virginia schools now equal the number of whites, Virginia’s teachers are becoming “less diverse over time,” states a report of the Taskforce to Diversify Virginia’s Educator Pipeline made to the Virginia Board of Education. “Demographically, minority students make up 48.7 percent of Virginia’s student population, but only 21.4 percent of the state’s teachers are minorities. Research indicates that a racially representative mix of teachers and administrators can be directly correlated to positive educational outcomes for minority students.”

In Virginia’s school system, diversity has become an end unto itself. “All Virginia students benefit personally and intellectually when they learn from education professionals with a variety of racial, ethnic, socio-economic and religious backgrounds,” states the report. “We believe there is value in all students learning from teachers with diverse backgrounds; and we simultaneously recognize that research indicates there is a unique role teachers of color play in improving the lives of students of color.”

The task force says Virginia should endeavor reduce the gap between the percentage of minority students and the percentage of minority teachers, now 27%, to 15% by  by 2040.

There are two problems, states the report. First, according to national statistics, teachers of color leave the profession at a higher rate than whites: 18.9% per year turnover in 2012-13 compared to 15% for white teachers. Second, the percentage of minority students enrolled in education schools is declining. “Minority enrollment in Virginia’s teacher preparation programs has fallen from more than 50 percent in the 2010-2011 school year to only 33 percent in 2016-2017.”

The task force’s proposed solution is to remove barriers to minority students seeking to become teachers. The conventional pathway to the teaching profession entails a five-year program for a B.A. and M.A., during the course of which the average Virginia teacher will have accrued $50,879 in debt. States the report: “When combined with low teacher pay, the high cost of training is a powerful deterrent for young people considering a future in the teaching profession.”

The state should revise its criteria so that students can become teachers through development of a four-year undergraduate major. Also, Virginia should provide financial assistance for minority teaching candidates, give student teaching stipends to low-income students, and devise innovative ways to provide compensation to student teachers during their student-teaching experience. Other solutions include encouraging minority high school students to become teachers and making more of provisional licensure.

Bacon’s bottom line: Wow. It’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the bedrock assumption that “diversity” among teachers is a meaningful determinant in the educational outcomes of students. I’d like to evaluate the “research” that stands behind this proposition as well as any that might contradict it. If the ethnic identity of teachers and students is so crucial, I’d especially like to see how the research explains that Asian-American students consistently out-perform whites academically even though the number of Asian-American teachers is a tiny percentage of the whole.

But let’s accept the report on its own terms, including the proposition that the ethnic identity of the teacher matters. One might ask why minority teachers leave the teaching profession at a higher rate than white teachers. Do we know why they are leaving? Has anyone asked the minority teachers why they are leaving? The Task Force does not consider option of reducing teacher turnover, choosing to focus exclusively on the supply of new students.

Interestingly, the Task Force might have a point about the educational pathway for new teachers. Perhaps the requirements are too high — not just for minority teachers but all teachers. After all, as the task force notes, the problem schools have recruiting minority teachers is just a sub-set of the difficulty they have recruiting teachers in general. Who put these barriers into place? Did the Virginia Teachers Association play a role? Assuredly, the justification proffered for instituting more demanding standards was to improve the quality of teachers, but according to public choice theory, the hidden purpose was to restrict the supply of new teachers. Labor shortages give teachers more power to mau-mau state and local government for higher salaries and  benefits. If the Task Force prompts legislators to take a look at the entire system of teacher credentialing, it might have done us all a favor.

The high cost of getting a teaching degree also circles back to a perennial issue of interest to Bacon’s Rebellion — the excessive cost of education. Why is it so expensive to teach students how to teach? What is going on inside Virginia’s schools of education? Should not part of the solution be to bring tuition back to  reasonable levels?

The Task Force addresses none of the broader issues, and that’s a missed opportunity. Among all the factors that influence academic achievement among African-Americans and Hispanics, I would be willing to bet that the ethnic mix of teachers is secondary at best. I would be amazed if closing the ethnicity gap between teachers and students has any measurable effect whatsoever. Indeed, the obsession with racial bean counting strikes me as part of what is wrong with public education today.

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9 responses to “New Cause for Alarm: Too Many White Teachers, Not Enough Black”

  1. Not to decry any excuse to lower the cost of education training and to eliminate overzealous certification requirements — but there could be something else more fundamental going on. There was a time when young black women had few employment options other than teaching (and those domestic jobs). Now they have many more, as employers diversify their workforce and even recruit diversity. Could it be that past barriers and past low pay were tolerated, and that today there are fewer black applicants for teaching and greater turnover, simply because there are more, better options for motivated black women now?

    I agree strongly with your point that diversity among teachers should not affect the educational outcome for students, by the way, as long as there are a few examples of all cultures around.

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Oh, Jim, I completely accept that this matters, and a trend toward fewer and fewer minority teachers is ominous, especially in the crucial elementary and middle school years. Maybe it shouldn’t be this way, but the reality is role models you can identify with matter. If you are in a single parent household, role models of the other gender make a difference. (Notice how I tried to make that gender neutral….)

    I also agree with Acbar that increasing opportunity in other fields explains some of the difficulty in recruiting and retaining minority teachers – male and female (not just women, Acbar). Perhaps this is the canary in that higher education affordability mine shaft – a vital profession nobody chooses because of student debt, unless by inheritance or marriage you just don’t need to sweat the salary.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Oh and I agree the fifth year in many programs was added in an attempt to do as you suggest, and constrict supply to raise the price (salary), but that effort has failed and should be abandoned. The four year degree should be sufficient.

  3. djrippert Avatar

    “Minority enrollment in Virginia’s teacher preparation programs has fallen from more than 50 percent in the 2010-2011 school year to only 33 percent in 2016-2017.”

    That’s one hell of a 6 year drop. As for the low salaries and high student debt – why doesn’t that also apply to white people? Why are those factors so dramatically affecting minorities over such a statistically short period of time?

    Something tells me we’re not getting the whole story here.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well I find myself with the others..I think it’s not a good sign – and I do suspect this is more to the story and I would not be surprised that if new black teachers can get shunted to the worst schools where inexperienced teachers are given the toughest kids to teach – and your career is on the line..

    teaching in these “troubled” schools is risky business.. You can get a bad class… have a bad year.. and then end your teaching career.

    It’s no secret among teachers that where you get assigned to teach has a huge impact on your career..on your life.. and teachers know the schools where you don’t want to be assigned…to teach… in your first year and so you take the job offer if they put you in a “good” school ..and you turn it down and go looking for other places to teach where you have a chance to survive.

    This is true no matter what county or city whether it be Fairfax, Henrico or Lynchburg.

    Combine that with other employers who need to “beef up” their diversity numbers.. and take the “easier” job.

    I’m totally fine with other types of schools – private or charter, even voucher in having a shot at this – as long as they are held to the same standard…that they have to target the neighborhoods with failing schools – and they have to face the same transparency and accountability standards for academic performance.

    Any school system that has schools in poor neighborhood is going to have trouble recruiting teachers for those schools.. and if that system is lopsided “white” and the easier schools and tries to fix their “diversity” problem by hiring blacks to teach at those poor neighborhood schools.. it’s a recipe for failure.

  5. musingsfromjanus Avatar

    Thanks for posting this. Maybe one of the most critical issues of our generation. If you plan on more posting on this subject, I would be interested in good data as to the validity of some of the following memes afloat today:

    One of the problems with salaries is the metastasizing growth of school administrations and bureaucracy to which teachers must aspire for higher pay and which is bleeding money from teacher salary budgets;

    Teachers are quitting in frustration over vexatious intrusions by union, State and Federal officials in the curriculum and disciplinary and grading options they find deleterious to education objectives. I have heard some teachers say that one of the best things we could do for education in this country is eliminate the Department of Education;

    Many teachers are deeply disturbed at the current trends of forcing them to move students to higher levels who are unprepared to move upward;

    Classroom discipline has deteriorated to the point where many teachers are not safe in their classrooms or schools while the Feds and State bureaucrats have made it increasingly difficult to remove the offending students.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Back during the 2015-2016 school year, I was talking to a neighbor who teaches in Fairfax County Schools (she taught my son in 4th grade). During that school year, the system had approximately 200 vacancies. An offer was made to staff to return to the classroom while protecting their existing job for a reasonable period of time. Not a single administrator opted in.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        This is sure and classic evidence that the institution has lost its sense of its purpose and its mission to teach kids, and instead it is clear proof that the primary purpose and mission of these schools are is to meet the desires and wants of its administrators.

        This plague of mission drift and destruction also inflicts higher education. Colleges and universities today are most always designed not to teach their students but to satisfy the wants and desires of its non teaching professors and also its high paid administrators. The evidence of this alarming trend is now very plain, very obvious, and very unambiguous. This includes not least the exploding growth of University spending, the vast and overwhelming majority of which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the education of the institution’s students.

  6. musingsfromjanus Avatar

    I listened to this a few days ago and it makes a strong case for same-race roles models as well as a heart-wrenching look at the damage done by our forefathers not only in resisting the integration of Blacks but even in misguided responses and solutions to that resistance.
    There’s obviously an agenda here but it is compelling.

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