Black students need black teachers, but so do white students

Five times as many black students as black teachers. Three of 10 students never learn from a black teacher. That's a problem.

It's nothing new. We've known about it for decades. And what has been done?

We've made it worse, with fewer black college students becoming teachers.

So you care if you are a black parent, but you should also care if you are a white parent, even a white parent who doesn't think a teacher's skin color matters.

Here's why: Your child is being educated so they can succeed as an adult. That means work and relationships everywhere from the neighborhood to the T-ball game to the local bar.

Sometime during that child's career, they are likely to work with someone, or work for someone, whose life experiences and outward appearance are very different than theirs. They will depend on that other person, or be judged by that other person.

Does your child as an adult have the people skills to succeed because Ms. Wright in second grade taught them humanity, shared black perspectives and showed them how to respect others? Or do they wind up in HR, unemployed and scanning alt-right websites as the bank hounds them about the mortgage.

So how do we get there?

First, convince black students that teaching is a rewarding career that can change the world one kid at a time. That comes from current teachers, their parents, their friends' parents and their peers. You can play a major role in that effort.

Second, schools should do what they can now. Sparta encourages the football team captain to be a role model and mentor for elementary students. That sounds like an idea that can easily spread.

Third, listen to our successful former superintendents. Ed Hightower and Jim Rosborg recruited minority teachers and understand the hurdles.

Rosborg targets the tests needed before becoming a teacher. The drop in black education majors started in 2010, when skills testing began in Illinois. Fewer than one in four black students passed the math and reading portions that half of their white peers passed.

That takes a long-term solution to fix primary and secondary education for minority students, as well as a delicate tweak of the tests so we don't sacrifice quality teaching.

Hightower pushes recruitment, discounting the oft-heard excuse that black teachers do not apply or cannot be found. They are not unicorns — they are out there. He also says once you get black teachers in the door they must feel part of the community so that they stay and raise their children and pay taxes and feel invested in the future of that place.

But most of all, there must be a desire and a priority. If you want success modeled for your black student, if you want your white student to succeed in the melting pot, if you want your child to better understand what it is to be a fully formed human, then expect and nurture and model a schoolhouse that resembles the big Crayola box — 64 different, brilliant colors, with a built-in sharpener.

Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat