Last week I wrote a very personal post about the connections between our nation’s education and criminal justice systems. I was accused by a reader of not grounding my assertions in research, thus voiding my post’s truth or relevance. I reminded the reader that I’d written a blog post, not a research paper.
However, this criticism prompted me to be more explicit about the bridge between school and prison and, thus, teachers and students, for others who also may not see these connections. Black students, more than any other student group, need and benefit in life-changing ways from having Black teachers. We understand Black children, care deeply and personally for them, and help navigate their school experiences in ways that enhance their life experiences overall.
Jill Rosen writes, “Black students who’d had just one black teacher by third grade were 13 percent more likely to enroll in college—and those who’d had two were 32 percent more likely. The findings, led by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and American University, were published in a working paper titled “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers” today by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
This stands out because additional research by NBER goes on to show that, “Every 20 percent increase in a teacher’s expectations raised the actual chance of finishing college for white students by about 6 percent and 10 percent for black students. However, because black students had the strongest endorsements from black teachers, and black teachers are scarce, they have less chance to reap the benefit of high expectations than their white peers.”
I draw attention to these facts because they substantiate my experiences as a Black teacher who teaches Black and Brown students. My students work for me because I raise the standards high and I lovingly help them achieve those standards in ways the average White teacher simply can not. Experience and station in life, not education or skill set, are the factors involved here.
Yet and still, even with all the research, New York hires predominantly White women to head their classrooms — classrooms that in many districts are filled with Black and Brown students. This is not safe. This feeds the pipeline. Black teachers are good for all students, but Black students especially thrive under our tutelage and care. It’s research like that above that verifies the correlation between poor school experiences and our Black students turned adults going to prison. Many are in prison before they leave school or, worse, go from the classroom to a cell — literally.
If the powers that be intentionally provide children of color with real and equitable opportunities to engage academically, they pipeline will diminish. As screenwriter Anelise Wunderlich aptly summarizes,
“The problem needs to be attacked at the front end and the back end of the incarceration pipeline – more equitable funding for kids from pre-K forward, and access to education and job training for those adults who will re-enter their communities. And all the while electing more POC and allies of reform into power positions where they can redesign the criminal justice and education systems. It’s gonna take a lot of work. It’s a disgrace to our ideals in this country and the world stage – but of course it’s built into the capitalistic system and probably evolved from feudalism before that. My only hope is seeing POC visionaries and leaders breaking through the system and redesigning it – but I know there is a long way to go, and much awareness and action that needs to come from white allies who still have the most privilege and power.”
We need to hire more Black teachers so that Black boys and girls have the best chance to go to college — not prison.