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Teachers of Color Badly Needed

With graduation rates for blacks and Hispanics still trailing those for whites and Asians, it's worthwhile considering what the Institute of Labor Economics found ("Wanted: Many more teachers of color," New York Daily News, Apr. 23). After studying 100,000 black students, the institute reported that their probability of dropping out of school was reduced by 29 percent if they had at least one black teacher in 3rd through 5th grade.  Moreover, it significantly increased their likelihood of aspiring to attend a four-year college.

Such outcomes, whether the result of correlation or causation, merit serious consideration.  But the question is why such a black teacher shortage exists in the first place.  There have been several explanations, but I've found none to be completely satisfactory.  It may be that blacks with a bachelor's degree have far more and better paying opportunities than in teaching.  Who can blame them for looking there?  But there may also be unique needs that these potential teachers have.  Unless traditional certification programs take such needs into consideration, the shortage is likely to continue.

One of the ways to address the issue is to rely more heavily on performance-based assessment of teacher candidates, rather than on standardized tests.  I'm not advocating eliminating tests of basic competencies by any means, but I believe that observing teachers of color teaching a lesson in front of a class composed of students of the same color provides more authentic feedback.  I realize that performance-based assessment is not as objective as standardized tests, but with proper training, ratings by observers can be made far more reliable than assumed.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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