When Black men can't afford to teach, our children pay the price

When Black men can't afford to teach, our children pay the price
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In his American Families Plan, President Joe BidenJoe BidenChina eyes military base on Africa's Atlantic coast: report Biden orders flags be flown at half-staff through Dec. 9 to honor Dole Biden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package MORE expressed the importance of investing in a racially diverse teaching workforce. His plan calls for Congress to invest $9 billion in programs that improve training and support for teachers, address teacher shortages and increase teacher diversity. Currently, more than half of our nation’s student population identify as Black, Indigenous, or other non-Black people of color (BIPOC), while only 20 percent of teachers identify this way. To increase racial diversity among America’s educators, it is critical for states to develop programs that recruit and support Black men entering the teaching profession.

Teachers are our children’s earliest role models outside of the home, yet only 2 percent of the nation’s teachers are Black men. Why is it so hard to attract and retain Black teachers, especially Black male teachers? Student loan debt may be a barrier for teachers of color to enter the profession, as graduates of color are more likely to have student loan debt than white graduates. Moreover, all teachers face a pay penalty: they are not paid as well as their similarly educated peers. For Black males who may be the first generation to attend college or who do not have family wealth, the price of entry to the teaching profession can serve as a deterrent when other careers offer more immediate financial gain. 

After graduation, teachers can expect to pay additional costs for licensure and credentials. Teachers of color are more likely to enter the teaching profession through alternative certification programs that allow bachelor’s-trained candidates to pursue teaching credentials. These aspiring teachers may face additional expenses such as fees and tuition for a year-long (or more) credentialing program. They often practice teaching for little or no pay and might struggle through these financial constraints for two years before landing a full-time teaching position. It is critical that states address these financial barriers to make teaching a more viable career path for Black teachers overall, and particularly for Black men. All students lose out when Black men are unable to become teachers.

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Fortunately, there are programs seeking to provide innovative solutions. The Teachers Rooted in Oakland project founded by Mayor Libby Schaff provides subsidized housing or stipends to “teachers of color who are committed to a career teaching STEM and Special Education in Oakland Unified School District.” The North Carolina Teaching Fellows program provides scholarships to teacher candidates at select educator preparation programs who commit to teaching STEM or special education at a North Carolina public school.

There are also programs that seek to remove all financial barriers to a career in teaching. For example, San Francisco has one of the highest costs of living and has historically struggled to attract Black male teachers. Urban Ed Academy (UEA), where one of us serves a chief operating officer,  in San Francisco runs a fellowship program that provides aspiring Black male teachers with highly subsidized housing for four years. The program pays all the costs of teacher training and credentialing expenses, as well as a stipend for living expenses. The fellowship also provides other important services such as coaching and job placement. With these supports, UEA makes teaching more within reach for Black men choosing among careers. Four years of comprehensive support costs about $100,000 per Black male teacher in San Francisco; this prohibitive cost dissuades Black men from becoming teachers in similar places around the country. UEA estimates that it will cost about $20 million for every city student to have a Black male teacher before middle school.

What are the benefits of having more Black male teachers? For Black students, having a Black teacher has been shown to make them feel safer, learn more, drop out less and pursue college at higher rates. The benefits extend beyond Black students as well: Students of all races and ethnicities who have had a Black male teacher are less likely to hold stereotypical biases about Black men.

Furthermore, labor market research suggests that having one Black male teacher can reduce dropout rates. And economists estimate that for every high school dropout, the general public loses $300,000 in tax revenues and increased spending on crime and public assistance. If San Francisco invested in developing Black male teachers for every city public school, this could result in taxpayer savings of about $145 million per generation of students in San Francisco alone. These returns on investment may be even higher in less expensive cities such as Washington, D.C., or Baltimore. 

All students deserve the benefit of a diverse teaching workforce and the opportunity to learn from Black male educators.

A representative, racially diverse teaching workforce is within reach. With funding from the American Families Plan, we can support the kind of innovative programs that directly address the barriers to attracting and retaining great teachers. To do that, we must identify the unique barriers faced by BIPOC teacher candidates and implement targeted solutions to those barriers. Only then will we develop a teaching workforce that reflects our nation’s student population and fulfills its promise as the great equalizer for our children.

Bayliss Fiddiman is the associate director at the Center for American Progress’ for K-12 Education Policy. Toi Sin Arvidsson is the chief operating officer of the Urban Ed Academy.