This week was very hard for me. The guest speaker for one of my classes prompted a conversation about black boys in K-12 and the unfortunate disparities of suspension, disciplinary actions and the disappearance of special education referrals written by teachers. It shocked me to see the professor teaching this class was very uncomfortable talking or interacting about the black body and the historical assumptions that have led to the evolution of Jim Crow on the focus of our most failing class of students; black boys.
By Don Allen, Publisher –Educator
If you were to ask me what is the main challenge in educating black males in the K-12 public school system, I would have to answer, “perception and teacher’s training the teachers.” Although I cannot use this as a generalization because I am product of the Minneapolis Public School system, my experience was a lot different. I had teachers who looked like me teaching science, math, social studies, English and reading – let’s not forget gym. However, in graduate school, I have professors that I truly admire and respect; but at this point in my academics, I am usually the only African American in the classroom and to see an African American professor can be compared to a black person winning the local lottery…it’s not going to happen…yet.
The challenge we have is difficult. Educators must be qualified to train today’s new teachers. A doctorate degree doesn’t really denote any qualification. One might argue the evidence is very clear; after so many years with the various “gaps” for children of color, there seems to be another gap created from inside the classroom of those training the people we rely on to make sure our children learn and graduate from high school: cultural competence. If perception becomes reality in the classroom, black boys become casualties in education.
We know today, both the Minneapolis and St. Paul public school systems are straddling a dangerous line in failing children of color. The general public is privileged to announcements of “Dinner with the Superintendents,” a boutique community engagement, to the search for a superintendent – after the first search went bottom up (not every elected body can be competent). None of these social offers can help our failing children until the classroom teacher reflects the community. The professors and instructor’s who train-the-trainers must put aside their personal convictions and stop the segregation of cultural competence. This will put an end to demanding silence on issues of the black body. The evidence of my concern is that some professors will talk about race, color and class via the platform of Brown v. The Board Education because it’s in a book. I am finding out the subject of educating black boys is becoming more taboo; or if I bring up the topic, eyes roll and heads bow as if to say, “there goes the black guy talking about racism.”
This alone represents a challenge that needs to be addressed. If schools of education and their students are obstructed from having these important conversations on educating black boys, then how will the real story of education be taught in a multi-faceted, fact-based platform that is open to relevant and timely concerns?
Novelist Gail Godwin wrote, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.” Minnesota’s educational theater is absent of important players who should have staring roles in the elementary school classroom. Minnesota’s challenge of educating its students has become an epidemic of finger pointing, while local school district CEOs continue to distribute money and valuable resources among their administrators like it is Christmas time. Making cash resources available to the lone teacher in the classroom is not a concern; making sure there is a modest culturally competent development and insertion of black male teachers is not a concern. In most cases, cash and cultural resources are not delivered past the district headquarters’ front door.
When you tighten the focus and look at black men teaching in the public school systems – in the United States, the numbers are even less; in Minnesota it is almost nonexistent unless you count the instructors who double as a sports coaches or hall monitors. The disparity comes at a time when more school districts are actively trying to diversify their teaching ranks by hiring more men, minorities, immigrants and teachers with different educational backgrounds (Schools try to add more male teachers – Kim McGuire, Star Tribune, Feb. 5, 2012).
What does “diversify the teaching ranks” mean in Minnesota’s public school educational system?
The words “diversify the teaching ranks,” as it pertains to the educating, licensing and hiring of black male teachers has created a catastrophic downward spiral for children of color in the public schools. If black school children in the K-12 system do not see a black role model, as in a black teacher, it duplicates the social and economical rhetoric that black men are unemployed, in jail, absentee fathers and do not care about education. (Read: “Are you the President of the United States?”
The lack of black male teachers is partly responsible for the wide gap in education between black and non-black students. Dr. Umar Abdullah-Johnson, a nationally certified school psychologist says, “Institutional racism is a major contributing factor to why the public education system is failing Black children. The fact that there are not enough Black male teachers is a huge problem. That is the number one institutional issue that is breeding the crime, dropout, suspensions and enormous referral rates to special education. I often argue that if you want to eliminate half of dropouts, Special Ed (education), ADHD, drugs, gangs, give every Black Boy a heterosexual, culturally competent, Black male teacher. You will eliminate half the problems in school,” said Dr. Abdullah-Johnson. (“Back to School or back to hell? Why America’s education system continues failing Black students” –The Final Call, Sept. 10, 2012)
The problems grow out of the gender inequity in the teaching corps as seen the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and the Master of Arts in Education (MAEd) program classrooms in Minnesota and across the United States. This also reflects on the lack of male teachers of color, not only in public school systems but also at the university level. Some local universities’ Schools of Education do not have any black, or African American, African heritage male professors or instructors. This translates to a gap in cultures when the teacher from one culture confronts many cultures at once. In Minnesota, we have seen the in-classroom failures first hand. Minnesota universities continue to produce proportionally fewer teachers of color than K-12 student demographics would predict.
In the past two years, according to the Minnesota Board of Teaching, approximately 13 percent of Minnesota students who took the teacher’s licensure test were not white. Statewide, 26 percent of students were not white. Also disconcerting, many of the teachers of color who took the test didn’t pass. Teachers must pass basic skills tests (which is not really a basic skill test) in math, reading and writing to get a license.
In the last two years, 75 percent of all test takers passed the basic math test. Only 26 percent of African American testers and 45 percent of Hispanic testers passed. The passage rate of Asian and multiracial testers was comparable to white students. That gap is wider than it was before the Minnesota Board of Teaching voted to adopt a more challenging licensure test in 2010. In the ten years, before the new test, 92 percent of all math testers passed, compared to 58 percent of African American testers and 70 percent of Hispanic testers. Pearson, the testing firm out of Massachusetts contracted by the Minnesota Board of Teaching to develop the Minnesota Teachers Licensure Exam (MTLE) subcontracts the test out to another local firm in MA. The leadership of Pearson does not represent a culturally competent universal design for learning, testing, pedagogy or classroom instruction.
At this point, there are many solutions that would address the issue of cultural competence in classroom instruction at the university levels, but who will listen? Addressing the segregation of classroom instruction is a social justice and equity concern that pays zero. The pushback, especially in Minnesota can put a person in a very difficult position. My goal in this reflection is to let you know that I am out here; I see what’s happening and I will not remain silent.