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How college ed programs try, fail to recruit teachers of color

Photo of Andre Perry

Degree of  Interest

Nationally, black males account for 2 percent of the teacher population. Blacks in total represent 8 percent of all teachers; Latinos, 7 percent; and Asians, 2 percent. My 3-year-old son could have approximately 50 different teachers by the time he graduates from high school. How many times should he expect to see an African American male teacher before graduation? This is a “Common Core” question I struggle with.

In a seminar titled, “How Do We Get More Black Male Teachers in America’s Classrooms?” At the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 44th Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., an audience member asked, “Are colleges even recruiting black male teachers?” As someone who is charged with building a teacher prep program, I can say most universities aren’t built to recruit from black communities.

Black and brown people represent 30 percent of the population. But they represent 15 percent of teachers, and that figure is in decline. Woodrow Wilson reports that if current trends hold, the percentage of teachers of color will fall to an all-time low of 5 percent by 2020. But today for the first time in American history, the majority of public school students are of color.

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Diversity matters when it comes to learning. Ethnic minorities benefit from seeing teachers who share similar backgrounds. This reality motivated the Center for American Progress to create their Diversity Index, which “ranks states on the percentage-point difference between teachers of color and students of color.” But everyone benefits from seeing authentic teaching and learning come from all walks of life. Even though we should all have diverse teachers in our lives, most of us don’t.

Before explaining the lack of infrastructure to recruit black teachers, I must assert an extraneous but important claim. Students are more likely to become teachers if they’re treated with respect while in school. If racial disparities in suspension and expulsion provide indications of preferential treatment, then our teacher recruitment strategy should include “discipline” reform. Unfortunately, schools are a negative flashpoint in many black children’s lives. In addition, a lack of school quality makes it more difficult for aspiring teachers to meet the ever-increasing academic requirements to enroll in programs. Students’ educational experiences will influence future career decisions.

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The Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Preparation (CAEP) and organizations like Teach for America have certainly raised the bar for entry into the profession. A college 3.0 GPA has become standard. Again, if students aren’t prepared at the secondary and postsecondary levels, then they won’t be able to pass required tests for licensure. For instance, only 1 in 4 test takers (among all ethnic groups) passed Michigan’s revised teacher examination. Nevertheless, the eroding 15 percent of black and brown teachers in the profession isn’t only about preparation.

Recruiting teachers of color is hard because the units in universities that are charged specifically for marketing and recruitment aren’t positioned and staffed to recruit African Americans and Latinos. Many colleges still have a sole multicultural recruiter.

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I still love seeing names of units change from minority affairs to diversity or multicultural affairs as the composition of majority changes. Particularly for regional colleges and universities situated in urban areas, the word minority is most often used incorrectly. Whites are the minority in places like New Orleans, Detroit and Atlanta.

And still, many admissions offices are networked to schools and families outside of their immediate surroundings. Colleges and universities’ infrastructure aren’t positioned to the neighborhoods and schools where the untapped teacher talent resides.

Teacher education programs must move from a tuition-driven model aimed for quantity to one built for selectivity and quality. Diversity must be included as a key performance indicator of quality. In addition, district leaders want universities to respond to specific needs in regards to subject area and diversity.

The days of recruiters waiting for aspiring teachers to willingly hand over their tuition in exchange for a certificate are over. If we want teachers of color, colleges are going to have to recruit outside their social networks. Meaning, we really have to recruit. (Another aside – what if teacher prep programs recruited like football coaches.) Universities need less traditional recruiters and more street teams, “a group of people who ‘hit the streets’ promoting an event or a product.”

Related story: ‘Call me MISTER Initiative’ succeeds in recruiting, developing black teachers

This is where cultural competency enters the equation. Recruiters have to know where potential teachers congregate, party, socialize and learn. In addition, marketers have to know what materials are attractive to specific groups and where to promote. In other words, admissions offices need to learn more from the social networking theories touted in their classroom.

Social network theory believes that influence comes from one’s social relationships and ties within network of people. Actions and behaviors are influenced through the structure and communication within an individual’s social network. If college recruiters and marketers aren’t in the social networks of the students they want, it’s unlikely students will come to the university because of the recruitment. The easiest and fastest way to recruit teachers of color is to find recruiters who are in their networks.

More and more admissions offices are using social media as tools. However, you can’t fake being a member of a community even if it’s virtual. Finding teachers of color will require hiring recruiters of color who authentically can navigate the social milieu. This is especially true for high achieving black and brown students.

Are collegiate teacher education programs recruiting teachers of color? Technically, many are. However, the demographics of the graduates reflect those with whom teacher colleges are networked. The demographics of the admissions teams also reflect those whom they’re built to recruit.

Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., is the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).

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Andre Perry

Dr. Andre Perry, a contributing writer, is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at The Brookings Institution. Perry was the founding dean of urban education at… See Archive

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