The Browning of Education

The 2014-2015 academic year was a landmark one for education. It was the first time that the number of minority students in the nation’s public schools surpassed the number of Whites. 

Yet, more than 80 percent of the nation’s teachers are White, and AfricanAmerican teachers make up only 7 percent of the workforce. 

For students, the amount of diversity within the education system can be the difference between success and failure. A recent study published in the journal Economics of Education Review found that when Black and White teachers were asked about the same student, White teachers had lower expectations about what the minority students could accomplish in the future. 

“When you go through your whole academic career as a student and you don’t see a reflection of yourself as being a source of intellectual authority, it can dampen your self-esteem, your confi- dence and your efficacy while wanting to move forward in a professional realm,” said Dawn Williams, Ph.D., interim dean of the School of Education. 

In a world that is becoming more diverse every day, it’s more imperative than ever that the education workforce reflects the students it is charged to teach. Howard is in the prime position to lead the charge.
 

The face of the modern-day student 

Before significant change can be made, it’s important that everyone be on the same page when it comes to defining diversity in the first place. “Nobody lives in one homogeneous population,” said John McCormick (B.A. ‘13), a first-grade teacher at DC Scholars Charter School in Washington, DC, who participated in Teach for America. “We’re a world made up of people who look different.” Those differences go beyond race and gender, as a diverse educational workforce encompasses economics, age, religious beliefs and sexual orientation, as well. 

It’s also critical to understand some of the changes in demographics that are sweeping the education landscape— and the country. Immigration isn’t the only reason for a growing minority population. Middle-aged White men and women have experienced an increase in their mortality rate between 1999 and 2013, while the mortality rates of Blacks and Hispanics have continued to fall, according to a Princeton University study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in 2015. The increase in deaths among middle-aged Whites is partly attributed to drug and alcohol poisonings, as well as suicide. 

The reasons for this are complex, said Karinn Glover, M.D. (B.A.‘94), assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Research has shown that in the 1990s, Whites were more likely to be prescribed opiates for pain than non-Whites, and there is widespread belief that that contributed to Whites being more likely to succumb to opiate addiction, Glover said. 

As for the increase in suicides among middle-aged Whites, “some people have postulated that the sense of hopelessness that leads to suicide is linked to Whites feeling like they are losing economic ground,” Glover added.

Minorities are also making gains in higher education. Contrary to popular belief, Black men are not underrepresented in college, said Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, and a former associate professor of Counseling Psychology at Howard. Black men make up about 5.5 percent of the U.S. population and about 5 percent of the college population. However, White men are underrepresented with them making up about 32 percent of the general population and only about 28 percent of the college population, Toldson said. And that trend is likely to continue, as the percentage of Black males attending college is growing, while the percentage of White males attending college is declining. “If you were to look at the college age population, every other racial group has grown in population,” Toldson said. 

 

Defining the new diversity

With a more diverse base of students, Howard and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities have a unique responsibility when it comes to ensuring that Blacks are represented in all levels of education across the U.S. “Although HBCUs only represent 3 percent of the nation’s universities and colleges, we prepare about 50 percent of Black teachers around the country,” Williams said. 

There is also a need for more Black administrators in education, said McCormick . “People who look like these children who are at the highest risk should be the ones who are making decisions about them,” McCormick said. However, that’s not generally the case, since African Americans make up 10 percent of principals and only three percent of administrators, Williams pointed out. 

One way Howard is hoping to change that is by partnering with the American Association of School Administrators to create the Urban Superintendents Academy, a program that strives to diversify the pipeline of education leaders. “Urban school districts are the most diverse districts within the U.S. So, if we are attracting individuals who are coming from diverse backgrounds, we want to make sure we have an impact in creating a pipeline that’s going to help increase that 3 percent of the nation’s superintendents that are African American,” Williams said.

Each year, Howard hosts an Educator Job Fair, which attracts school districts from across the nation. “Recruiters know that we have a diverse pool of candidates—strong candidates that they have to compete for,” Williams said. 

Another program Howard has developed to increase diversity is the Metropolitan Teacher Residency Program, which seeks to train paraprofessionals who are already working in the school system to become certifi ed teachers. 

All of Howard’s programs look at education through a social justice lens, as a means to level the playing fi eld among diverse populations and build upon the students’ inherent strengths.

“Not only is being diverse necessary at the K-12 level, it’s equally as important in higher education learning environments,” said Antonio Ellis (M.A. ’06, M. Ed ’10, Ph.D. ’13), workforce development coordinator for the District of Columbia Public Schools, Offi ce of Teaching and Learning. 

“Although it’s unlawful, research has shown that several higher education institutions screen admission applications in ways that exclude certain populations, while other institutions accept a diverse population of students, but teach them from one perspective, with the hopes of academic cloning. As educators, our task is not to clone students, but to provide them with multiple disciplinary perspectives, while encouraging them to contribute to their prospective fi eld,” Ellis added. 

Howard is also playing a major role in keeping the discussion about education diversity on the national stage. The University was recently invited by the National Education Association to discuss teacher diversity, and the University hosted a forum on the topic that featured Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, and Teach for America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard.

“A lot of people look to Howard because we generally are leaders in many disciplines,” Williams said. In the fi eld of education, Howard takes that responsibility seriously. “We do understand that we represent a larger voice. When we advocate for things, we’re not just advocating for Howard University. Our constituency does include other HBCUs and those who are in the same fi eld that we are in—preparing future professionals.”

 

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