Arne Duncan, Spike Lee Recruit Black Teachers

Research makes it clear that a teacher's race matters.

By Julianne Hing Feb 01, 2011

On Monday Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued what is by now a familiar call from him: he wants more black teachers in America, the AP reports. This time Duncan got an endorsement from filmmaker Spike Lee while they spoke to an audience at the historically black male Morehouse College.

Lee and Duncan rolled out a celebrity-packed event, with videotaped messages from John Legend and Oprah Winfrey, and a pre-recorded message from President Obama, who told the crowd: "If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child, become a teacher. Our country needs you."

The AP reports that Duncan told the crowd that black males make up less than 2 percent of the country’s 3 million teachers, and that the nation is facing a severe teacher shortage as the current workforce ages. Addressing the racial disparities in education will demand a national teaching corps that’s equipped to understand and meet the needs of black and Latino kids, and educators play a unique role in influencing and shaping young people’s lives. It’s a message Duncan is diligent about slipping in whenever he can. Latino and black males make up just 3.5 percent of America’s teachers, Duncan’s said.

At a speech Duncan gave at a gathering of the National Council of La Raza last year he told the crowd: "I want to encourage you to develop a new generation of Hispanic teachers. Twenty percent of all public school students in the U.S. are Latino. But only 5 percent of their teachers are Latino. In Chicago, the numbers are just as lopsided–41% of students are Latino but only 15% of teachers are Hispanic."

For all the controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s education reform policies, this is a legitimately, unequivocally positive message to send to young people. There is a body of research that suggests what is perhaps fairly intuitive: a teacher’s race matters, and kids of color take in information differently when there’s a teacher of color at the front of the room.