By Cash Michaels
To his credit, Wake Supt. Anthony Tata is on a mission. He wants the best teachers available for Wake County Public Schools, but he wants as many as possible to look like the highly diverse 143,000 student population he is responsible for educating.
"First of all, for me it is about the talent," Tata told conservative WPTF-AM Tuesday. "And if we have shunted the applicant pool of minority pipelines then by definition we're not getting the best applicants across the spectrum.”
“To me it's important to have proper role models throughout the district,” Tata continued. “I think a white teacher can teach an African-American child or an African-American teacher can teach a white child equally as well. When you look at a 50.5 percent minority student population and a 14 percent minority or 15 percent minority teacher population, I don't know if we're really thinking about it and having an honest conversation.”
His fellow conservatives balk at the idea of recruiting talented teachers of color to the system, politically spinning that Tata runs the risk of instituting a quota system of some sort. The Wake superintendent rejects that argument, insisting that for a public school system that is now 51 percent nonwhite, and where closing the racial achievement gap is now also a priority, recruiting skilled, experienced educators of color to help lift the load is essential.
But as Tata is discovering, and Wake school superintendents have discovered before him, that’s better said than done. While there are bountiful numbers of black college graduates with the requisite degrees to go into teaching, far too many, experts agree, are taking those highly sought after degrees to private industry where they can earned tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands more compared to even the best classroom instructor.
The problem isn’t that Wake Public Schools hasn’t tried to recruit black teachers, and especially black male educators (in 2007, The Carolinian Newspaper, in a series of reports, documented that out of over 9,000 Wake Public School System teachers then, only a paltry 196 were black males).
The problem is here in North Carolina, and especially nationally, there are precious few black educators of both genders in the pipeline at all, and many say that is a key factor in the high dropout rate among black youth from public schools.
Diversity in the ranks is something Tata told a Southeast Raleigh audience at St. Matthew A.M.E Church last January that he “values” when recounting his childhood in Virginia, and 28-year tenure in the US Army.
“What I’m trying to lay out for everyone here is that what you have with me is someone who absolutely values diversity,” Tata, 51, assured the St. Matthews A.M.E Church audience, many of whom were retired educators. “Diversity is a strength. Diversity for Tony Tata is one of the most important things about how I operate.”
Sources tell The Carolinian that as Tata went from school to school in the system when he first came onboard earlier this year, he was struck by the extraordinary lack of black and Hispanic teachers in the classroom, and placed recruiting more on his agenda then.
If there is a mistake the retired US Army Brigadier general is making now, it is his strong implications that neither the school system, nor Wake’s African-American community, have ever directly addressed this situation before.
In September 2007 in a story titled, “Wake Schools Audit Cites Gap; Lack of Black Teachers,” The Carolinian reported, “A special audit commissioned by the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) notes that the system’s racial achievement gaps ‘…will never be closed at the current rate of progress,” and recommends that the system “develop incentives to attract minority and male teachers” to “eliminate the achievement gap between ethnic and socioeconomic student groups.”
That 2007 story, as portions reprinted here will show, illustrated clearly that not only did Wake County have a problem, but so did the state:
“We wanted to see where we had gaps in our processes and alignment so we can move this school system and our children to the next level academically,” Wake Supt. Del Burns said in a statement.
“We wanted and we received the hard look we asked for and will work with the Board of Education in processing and aligning these recommendations into our system.”
In the report, both the Wake School Board and Supt, Burns’ administration were tasked with specific recommendations on how to address key issues impacting the education of students of color.
While the administration was directed to reduce the achievement gap, reduce the high school dropout rate and hire more teachers of color, the school board was challenged to develop the policies that would enable administrative change.
Those recommended policies include a “commitment to end the achievement gap,” authorization of the administration to “change and practice that impedes elimination of the achievement gap,” ‘commitment to reduce the high school failure/dropout rate,” and directing the superintendent “to develop recruiting plan – male and minority teachers.”
The audit also urged the school system to “support stability in the teaching force in schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students” with merit bonuses and/or career path programs, and develop strategies to reduce high school failure and dropouts.
Those findings and recommendations buttress what African-American leaders and educators have long indicated was needed to improve the education of black children overall. There is a correlation, many education experts suggest, between the high racial achievement gap between black and white students, the disproportionate number of African-American high school students who fail and dropout, and the severe lack of black teachers - particularly black male teachers - in the classroom.
As first reported by The Carolinian/Wilmington Journal newspapers last April, from the 2005-06 school year, the latest figures available from NC Dept. of Public Instruction show that of the 94,129 full-time teachers employed in North Carolina then, 78,089 were white, while only 13,750 were Black.
Of that number, while white female teachers statewide in elementary (K-5), secondary (6-12) and other levels of instruction totaled 63,188; and white male teachers in those same categories numbered 16,000; the total for African-American female teachers was just 11,189.
And what about the total number of Black male full-time teachers in North Carolina last year?
A paltry 2,561.
As a comparison, of that 22,173 high school dropouts last year, 4,776, or 21.5 percent were Black males (white males - 29.8%; Black females – 12.9% and white females – 21.2%)
So there were well over 2,000 more Black male high school students who dropped out of school in 2005-06, than there were Black male instructors teaching in all of North Carolina to reach them.
“It is a cause for concern,” said Maurice Boswell, assistant superintendent in charge of Human Resources for Wake County Public Schools. “We want our workforce to reflect the community we serve.”
With less than 200 Black male teachers in the entire 9,000 teacher system, it is most likely, Boswell agrees, that a Black student could go through his or her entire academic career in Wake County Public Schools, and never once see or speak to an African-American male teacher.
Private industry is offering more money and benefits to the best and brightest Black teaching candidates, and those students are taking the offers, leaving a severe vacuum behind.
Boswell says the system recruits at historically Black colleges and universities in 38 states, and is working to build better relationships with schools like St. Augustine’s College and Shaw University so that the system can assist their teacher education programs in putting more qualified African-Americans in the pipeline.
The problem is generating the needed numbers.
So what happened with that recruitment effort of four years ago in 2007, and is it ongoing with historically black colleges and universities today?
And what are public schools systems like Wake doing to actually interest young black students in teaching, long before they get to college?
Those answers are part of Wake Supt. Anthony Tata’s challenge today.