Less than 2 percent of the nation’s teachers are black males.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, film director Spike Lee and Congressman John Lewis will try to change that Monday when they appeal to the men of Morehouse College to consider teaching as a career.
In a phone interview Friday, Duncan said the nation’s teacher workforce does not reflect the diversity of its student when only one in 50 teachers is a black male. “This is a national problem,” he said, “and one in which most schools of education have not shown leadership or foresight.”
So, Duncan has been traveling the nation to appeal to students of color “to consider coming back to the community and making a difference.”
Wouldn’t those students or any students, I asked Duncan, be more interested in coming to New York and being Spike Lee? (Lee is a Morehouse grad.)
“Maybe,” he said, “but I went to Howard University with John Legend who talked about the importance teachers made in his life. I think it is effective message to hear people like John talk about the role of teachers in his life.”
I told Duncan about a blog comment posted here at Get Schooled from the wife of an African-American male teacher about the pressure on her husband in the school since people expect him to mentor the many fatherless boys.
Isn’t that asking too much of a teacher, to teach kids algebraic equations and how to be a good person?
“It wouldn’t surprise me if her husband was the only black male in that school,” said Duncan. “We have to make this much more the norm. We need everybody to step up and help. We need more men of color in our schools, especially at the elementary schools.”
He agreed that a single caring adult often can make a difference for a child. I mentioned to Duncan that during a speech he made in Atlanta, I talked to Kerrie L. Holley, one of the thousands of South Chicago kids who attended the after-school math and reading program run by Duncan’s no-nonsense mother, Sue.
Holley talked about the role that Duncan’s mother made in his life. He attended her program from age 7 to college, and said Sue Duncan became his second mother. (Sue Duncan opened her educational and recreational after-school program in 1961 and still operates it today as a free service for neighborhood kids.)
Based in San Francisco with IBM, Holley was named an IBM Fellow in 2006, IBM’s highest technical leadership position. And in 2004, Holley, who used to tutor the sixth grade Arne Duncan in math, was named one of the 50 most important blacks in research science.
Duncan said, that if schools could increase the pool of mentors, drawing from the community as a whole, “mentors who could really get behind that child not at age 15, but at age 5, the impact could be powerful. We know in kindergarten which students are struggling. We don’t have to wait for high school.”
I told the education secretary that Georgia teachers were wary of Race to the Top’s requirement for a teacher performance evaluation system as they don’t think there is a fair way yet to measure performance.
“There are a handful of places around the country where this is being done really well,” he said. “There is not one that is perfect, but the teacher evaluation system is broken. The status quo is broken. Great teachers don’t get encouraged, and teachers who need improving don’t get support. A handful of districts are doing this in a thoughtful, creative way in partnership with labor and management working together.”
Duncan said 12 of those places will present their programs at conference in Denver in February being hosted by his department.(Denver is one district, he said, that has made a good start at a teacher evaluation system.)
With $4 billion dollars aimed at improving the nation’s lowest performing schools. Duncan also talked about how those struggling schools are in the process of making fundamental differences, of doing what he called transformational work.
You can see Duncan at Morehouse at noon on Monday. I have not received any word yet on whether his second appearance at Gwinnett’s Meadowcreek High School is open, but will post if the public can attend that event.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog