Want poor, black children to succeed in school? Give them more black teachers, a S.C. education advocate says, citing a new study.
Having at least one black teacher in an elementary school significantly lowers a black student’s likelihood of dropping out of high school, S.C. Education Oversight Committee director Melanie Barton told state senators Tuesday.
“Let me be real blunt. A new study by Johns Hopkins ... found that low-income black students who had at least one black teacher in elementary school had significant gains in opportunity,” she said.
“Having at least one black teacher in (grades) 3-5 reduces the drop out (rate) by 29 percent,” Barton said. “For every low-income black boy, it’s reduced by 39 percent.
“The reason why is ... they have a role model.”
Less than 20 percent of South Carolina’s public school teachers are minorities, compared to 40 percent of the state’s students, Barton said.
Barton said recruiting black teachers could help South Carolina improve performance in its poor, rural schools, many of which are majority African American.
The suggestion was one of many education advocates offered a Senate panel attempting to address inequities in the state’s public schools, identified in a long-standing lawsuit.
Advocates are sounding the alarm as South Carolina races toward an education crisis — having far too few teachers.
Asked about their career interests, only 5 percent of seniors graduating this year from S.C. high schools said they were interested in teaching, Barton said.
In addition, S.C. colleges are graduating only about 2,000 future teachers each year. Meanwhile, about 6,000 teachers leave S.C. classrooms each year.
Some schools rely on international teachers to fill their classrooms, but they only provide a short-term fix to the teacher shortage crisis, education advocates say.
Next year, that crisis will worsen. That is when thousands of teachers could be forced to leave the classroom with the end of a state program that allowed them to continue working in retirement.
“You as policy makers have to focus on those factors that you can make a change in, rather than those that you can’t: family structure, poverty,” Barton said. “Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other in-school factor.”