‘Brown’ Devastated the Black Teaching Force. It’s Long Past Time to Fix That

Brownie & Morial: 70 years after landmark school desegregation ruling, all students must have the chance to learn from diverse, effective educators

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It’s been 70 years since the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared racial segregation in schools unconstitutional. We recognize that Brown was a seminal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Yet we also acknowledge its profound consequences.

Before Brown, in the 17 states that had segregated school systems, 35% to 50% of the teaching force was Black. Even in the face of systemic inequities, Black teachers held kids to high expectations, and Black communities came together to build schools that helped move young people into greater opportunity. But in the aftermath of the decision, tens of thousands of Black teachers and school leaders lost their jobs or were forced out of the field due to resistance of some white people to integration. This had a profound impact on who was teaching students, and a detrimental economic effect on the tenuous, emerging Black middle class.

For several years after Brown, young Black people who wanted to become educators — including Marc’s mother — were still denied entry into postsecondary teaching programs in the South, solely because they were Black. Sybil Haydel Morial did go on to earn her master’s degree in education, at Boston University in 1955.

It’s long past time to ensure that the nation’s schoolchildren have the chance to learn from diverse, effective educators.

Today, just 22% of teachers and 23% of principals are people of color, and in 23% of public schools, students do not have a single teacher of color. Yet, 55% of students are people of color. Moreover, the proportion of adults aged 25 to 64 who are teachers is nearly three times higher for white adults (3%) than adults of color (1.1%). 

Given the depth of the teacher shortages around the country, it’s just common sense to build stronger pipelines to bring thousands of talented, diverse educators into the classroom.  

But solving teacher shortages is not the only reason that educator diversity matters. Research shows that all students benefit from having educators of color. And children of color, in particular, achieve at higher levels and are less likely to be suspended or drop out of school.  

We know firsthand the powerful effect diverse educators can have on the trajectory of a young person’s life. Tequilla grew up in poverty in rural Arkansas and lived with her grandparents, who were sharecroppers. They didn’t have indoor plumbing until she was 12 years old. She credits early and continued access to effective educators, many of whom looked like her, as a central reason for her climb to Yale and now CEO of TNTP.  

At a time when13-year-olds are recording the lowest math and reading scores seen in decades and racial wealth gaps are widening, the nation needs to leverage as many strategies as possible to get real results for kids. Curriculum matters a great deal to student success, but it takes diverse, skilled educators to bring even the best academic programming to life. 

It’s clear to us both that the traditional pathway to teaching is not meeting the demand. State and education leaders must embrace new and alternate pathways to teaching that are more attractive to the nation’s increasingly diverse talent pool. According to TNTP’s report A Broken Pipeline, traditional teacher preparation programs are far less diverse than the public school student population. In some programs, participants are more than 90% white. 

Encouragingly, many states and districts are starting to adopt alternative certification programs and “grow your own” programs to provide more accessible and affordable pathways into the classroom for diverse teachers, including high school students, classroom assistants and paraprofessionals.  

We know that the best recruitment strategy is a strong retention strategy. To better retain all educators, including teachers of color, the nation must ultimately rethink the industrial-era model that has dominated public education for the last century. 

Seventy years post-Brown, it’s clear that doing nothing is not an option. That’s why we applaud efforts like the One Million Teachers of Color campaign, a coalition of which TNTP is a part, that has an ambitious goal of dramatically expanding and diversifying the educator workforce.   

After all, the nation is at an inflection point. There aren’t enough effective, diverse teachers. But there’s also an incredible opportunity ahead. The nation can draw on evidence-based strategies to diversify the educator workforce. Doing so will benefit students today and have a profound economic impact for families and communities of color in years to come.  

Our hope is that the nation does not waste any more time. Now is the moment to see the full promise and potential of Brown v. Board of Education through the finish line. 

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