Decline of Black Teachers  

Black teachers are important

Research says that Black teachers are essential for modeling black success and that assigning a black male to a black teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grades significantly reduces the probability that he drops out of high school, particularly among the most economically disadvantaged black males. Exposure to at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 also increases the likelihood that persistently low-income students of both sexes aspire to attend a four-year college.  (The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers Other studies do show that good instruction can override ethnicity in relation to academic outcomes but for more holistic outcomes, black teachers are vital.


Why the Decline?

At the national level, in the last 25 years, “the minority teaching force has increased at more than two and a half times the rate of the non-minority teaching force.” (Albert Shanker Institute [ASI], 2015. The State of Teacher Diversity American Education, p.2) The overall percentage of minority teachers in the national teaching force has risen from 12% to 17%. In the same time period, however, cities like Baltimore with large numbers of minority and high poverty students have seen a huge loss of minority teachers (with the exception of LA where the hiring of Hispanic teachers has increased dramatically).


What’s unique to Black teachers is that they are disproportionately represented in majority Black and high poverty schools, and many of these schools have the worst conditions for teaching (and learning)--rote learning tasks, a narrow curricular focus, over-testing, little autonomy, top down authority, and punitive discipline practices.  As a result, Black teachers leave at disproportionately high rates in majority-minority cities with a preponderance of highly segregated and low income schools.


In the ASI study of 9 cities, (not including Baltimore), the reasons dissatisfied Black teachers cited for leaving include: (ASI, p. 20)

o   Dissatisfaction with Administration (81%),

o   Dissatisfaction with Accountability/Testing (65%),

o   Student Discipline Problems (61%),

o   Lack of Influence & Autonomy (57%),

o   Poor Workplace Conditions (56%),

o   Classroom Intrusions (46%),

o   Poor Salary/Benefits (39%),

o   Dissatisfied with Teaching Assignment (31%),

o   Class Sizes too Large 23%


“While students’ race and ethnicity, poverty levels and school urbanicity are not factors in and of themselves, the same hard-to-staff, high-poverty urban schools that are more likely to employ minority teachers are also more likely to have less-desirable working conditions. And these less-desirable conditions, our data suggest, account for the higher rates of minority teacher turnover.... In other words, the data indicate that minority teachers are employed at higher rates in schools serving disadvantaged students, and then depart at higher rates because these same schools tend to be less desirable as workplaces….Schools that provided teachers with more classroom discretion and autonomy, as well as schools with higher levels of faculty input into school decision making, had significantly lower levels of minority teacher turnover.” (ASI, p. 21)


In Baltimore, during the time period 2003 to 2015 the share of Black Teachers decreased 24.5 percentage points from 63% to 38%. During the same time period the share of white teachers increased nearly 14%. In comparison to 9 other large urban areas Baltimore has one of the steepest declines during this time period. (On par with New Orleans and Washington DC).  


How teacher and student accountability measures make things worse

The decline in Black teachers in our major cities was exacerbated by the introduction of Common Core standards, the accompanying set of achievement measurements (PAARC), and the movement to attach teacher evaluations to these standardized tests. These measurements are used to label students, grade schools, increase pay for teachers considered to be improving student achievement, and weed out “underperforming" teachers.  The assumption has been high standards and competition between schools and teachers will produce better results. In fact, what has happened is that the profession of teaching has been made more burdensome, while leaving students no more able to achieve. Even the most stalwart promoters of testing, choice and competition, such as the Fordham Institute, acknowledge that understanding the value of effective teachers is a different matter from making effective policy to find and keep more of them.  Recent attempts to use policy and funding to increase teacher effectiveness have not had the desired impact.


The narrative of accountability appeals to a collective public frustration about struggling schools, but the strategies promoted are not necessarily effective and can be counter to the public interest. Baltimore has not been subject to the same level of education reform tactics (replacing existing schools with charters, massive numbers of school closures, de-unionization of charter school teachers) as have other cities.  But we have been subject to a merit-based teacher contract, an overall reduction in force, a loss of unionized employees as a result of the outsourcing of education programs to private entities, and massive increases in time and costs associated with testing, with the effect of further reducing discretionary school-based spending and curtailing time for relationship building, reflection, and teacher growth in schools.


In the end, assessing a student and a teachers’ worth through measures that focus on test-based achievement measures rather than on addressing the humanity of children and understanding the circumstances that surround school life is demeaning. The reality of Black oppression makes Black teachers more likely to resist any kind of purely data-driven approach to classrooms or to school improvement.


Summary of the Problem

Despite a national trend over the past 25 years in which the proportion of minority teachers in the teaching profession has increased, the State of Teacher Diversity study shows that in low income minority districts there has been an alarming decline in minority teacher representation.  While more research is needed to draw solid conclusions, disruptions such as shrinking the overall size of a teaching force, closing schools, adding charter schools, and significantly changing the way teachers are evaluated have all been shown to be triggers that can destabilize teachers who are already teaching under the most difficult conditions.  And it is minority teachers who are over-represented in those with the most difficult assignments.   


What we want to see change

After conversations with educators and advocates, we have emerged with the following proposed changes to the recruitment, certification and support process for teachers.



  • Limitations on alternative certification contracts including limits to total number of contracts and requirements for hiring Baltimore residents, and teachers of color.

  • Focus efforts to design a set of recruitment pathways that attract and retain Black and Brown educators.  These pathways should be modeled after successful programs across the country and can be paid for in part out of the funds currently spent on contracts with alternative certification programs:

    • Prioritize recruitment at HBCUs and other institutions that incorporate culturally responsive principles and practices in their teacher education curricula.

    • Prioritize and offer early contracts at hiring fairs focused on Black and Brown candidates.

    • Provide Baltimore City School graduates financial or other incentives for becoming teachers in the system.

    • Implement a program to move high school students, paraprofessionals and committed Baltimore residents with a Bachelor’s degree into teaching positions

    • Provide experienced, fully certified teachers with incentives to come back to the classroom.



  • Eliminate PRAXIS and other standardized tests as primary gatekeepers for determining the most suitable candidates for our classrooms; and the need to allow for multiple types of supported pathways to teaching with flexible certification requirements.

  • New teacher induction programs that: allow time for reflection and coursework as part of the normal work week, include effective and intensive mentoring, and assess teacher candidates over time, based on multiple measures (not just test-scores) of classroom performance, cultural competence, and potential for growth.

  • Communication with local institutions of Higher Education regarding coursework for provisional teachers to make sure that the classes offered toward certification are relevant and significant to teachers who are already in the classroom and include classroom-based support.


Support for teachers

  • Placement of full-time mentors in schools that have the highest teacher turnover rates and the most difficult teaching conditions.  This mentoring program could be based on the successful Blum Mentoring Program that was shut down in 2005.  Sources of mentors could include retired educators.

  • Work with the teachers union on targeted and strategic reach outs to teachers who are vulnerable to leaving the district, determining what is causing them to want to leave, and troubleshoot possible individualized solutions.


Public schools anchor communities

This op-ed written by Helen Atkinson was published by the Baltimore Sun. Here is an except: 

"It used to be that the reason for having charter schools was to bring innovation to school districts serving children whose communities are out of the mainstream. The first charters were devised by progressive educators in the spirit of allowing flexibility to address specific community level concerns and students' cultural interests.

The rhetoric and argument has shifted completely. Gov. Larry Hogan, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Maryland State School Board Member Chester Finn and President Donald Trump, to name a few of the players calling for the expansion of charter autonomy and funding, have a completely new set of arguments. Their reasoning has nothing to do with improving our existing school districts serving low income black and brown children."

Background to the Budget Deficit Crisis

This powerpoint created by Corey Gaber, a teacher in Baltimore City, provides ample evidence that the state’s contributions to City Schools has not kept pace with inflation, let alone with the needs faced by a school district that serves so many children from communities with concentrated poverty.  The argument is made very clearly that it is both false and misleading to blame the current budget crisis on “mismanagement of funds” or any other derogatory label typically applied to Baltimore’s funding.

“Our children deserve an excellent and equitable education. The state has not met its constitutional obligation to provide the resources necessary for an adequate and equitable education over the past 9 years. This is the #1 driver of the budget shortfall.  By the state’s own definition of adequacy, Baltimore City has a 290 million dollar gap.”

It is important not to be swayed by the misleading statements by the governor about record funding for public education, nor be taken off into tangents about parent choice, charter vs. traditional funding, North Ave incompetence, teacher salary/benefits being too high, or union contract issues.  All these are a smoke screen used to deflect away from the simple fact that Baltimore’s schools are and have been underfunded.

Response to the Discipline Policy

Following the policy collaborative meeting, we will have until February 3rd to make our recommendations for changes to the policy.  

Back in December the school board decided (8:1) to delay voting on the school discipline policy for two months while the district works with stakeholders to make the policy more progressive. Board members Cheryl Casciani, Martha James-Hassan, Peter Kannam and Andy Frank echoed our input by saying: “Why not take the time and make the policy truly progressive?” Dr. Santelises said: "After all this work, we might as well get it right."

We are also interested in talking more generally about how to democratize the policy making process. We have a particular focus on teachers’ concerns about the flexible Code of Conduct and the mandate to reduce suspensions prior to full implementation of any new approaches to school climate and discipline.

We are currently focusing on Baltimore City Schools’ discipline policy. The board will make a final vote on the policy on Feb. 28.

Input on the Baltimore School Discipline Policy

Teachers’ Democracy Project held a forum on Baltimore City Schools discipline policy on Tuesday, Dec 6. The Discipline Policy was under review by the school board and they were seeking input from the community. Teachers and parents talked about what the new discipline rules mean for their students. The forum brought multiple view points together and addressed one central question: How could this policy create a more functional system? Dinner will be provided and the event is free to attend.

An Equitable and Just School System Now!

The Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J) is a national network of intergenerational, grassroots community organizations led primarily by Black and Brown people in 24 U.S. cities. We assert that the lack of equity is one of the major failures of the American education system. It is a particular failure of the Obama administration, as a wholesale commitment to school privatization through school closings and charter school expansion has energized school segregation, the school to prison pipeline and subjected children to mediocre education interventions that over the past 15 years, have not resulted in sustained, improved education outcomes but have contributed to the destabilizing of the quality of life in urban communities. 

TDP Policy Recommendations

After reviewing the Community School Strategy and soliciting feedback from teachers, parents, lead agencies, community schools coordinators and others, TDP has proposed the following recommendations to the School Board: 

  • The policy should have as a goal that there be a functional, democratically- organized School Family Council (SFC) and the recommendations of the council SFC should carry the most weight in choosing the lead agency to manage the community schools coordinator.
  • The planning process involved in becoming a community school should be part of a single strategic planning process required of these schools. This would ensure that this work is seen holistically as a part of climate issues and student social emotional needs.
  • Community school principals should be held accountable through their evaluation for this integrated community schools plan.
  • This policy should be linked to other relevant policies such as the discipline policy. A commitment should be made to review existing policies in relation to each other.
  • Teachers need to be included in the community schools plan and should participate in evaluating the school’s partner organization.
  • In schools that are larger, there should be more than one Community Schools Coordinator. Since this would require substantially more funding, there should be stronger aspirational language to indicate the amount of additional funding required.
  • To acknowledge the need for equity across schools, there should be aspirational language to indicate the amount of additional funding required to support all schools in becoming community schools.

Beyond Community Schools

TDP hosted an event called Beyond Community Schools on Monday Oct, 3rd at the Parkview Recreation Center. The event focused on Baltimore City Schools recent policy that formally supports the presence of community schools in Baltimore. We heard from community activist, Kim Trueheart, educator, Chris Baron and Community Schools partner agency leader, Mark Carter to gain insights into innovative models with a community-centered approach, and shared ideas and questions. TDP compiled the ideas and questions from the event and shared them with the school board.

Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises talks link between poverty, achievement

Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises talks link between poverty, achievement

Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises believes schools in pockets of concentrated poverty will improve if she can provide them with better teachers, offer their students a richer curriculum and leverage the sometimes unrecognized strengths of people within their communities.

Santelisis spoke as part of a panel of educators at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Education Thursday afternoon. The school is holding a two-day celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Coleman Report, a 700-page landmark publication that shaped education research and school reform for decades.