Would hiring more black teachers assist in closing the achievement gap for black male students?
That's one thing Elgin Area School District U-46 board member Traci O'Neal Ellis says is needed in that district. Studies back her up, and it is a common-sense solution that we agree with as well.
"It's good for all students to see a diversity of teachers in their classrooms," Ellis said at a weekend symposium focusing on issues facing the more than 1,200 black male students in the district. "But particularly, if we are serious about addressing black male student achievement, that is a critical component that they see people who look like them."
A study released earlier this year and reported by The Washington Post says that assigning black students from low-income black families to at least one black teacher in the third, fourth or fifth grades reduces the probability that they drop out of high school by 29 percent. And the results are even larger -- 39 percent -- for male black students.
"This isn't a situation where students need two, three or four black teachers to make a difference," said Nicholas W. Papageorge, an assistant professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who helped conduct the study. "This could be implemented tomorrow."
In U-46, black students make up about 6 percent of the student body and black teachers make up about 2 percent of the faculty.
Increasing that number should be a goal. And for Hispanics as well. By extension, similar outcomes may apply to Hispanic students, who make up 53.3 percent of the U-46 student body while Hispanic teachers make up just 19.2 percent, a disparity the district has made efforts to address.
Why is it important to make this a goal worthy of attention? Papageorge co-authored a 2016 study that found white and black teachers have different expectations for black students. According to the study, a nonblack teacher is 30 percent less likely to believe that a student will graduate from a four-year college than a black teacher who is evaluating the same student. For black males, that number is even lower.
It's a reality that seems to be borne out in Elgin: "We just want to say that this is our district's acknowledgment that your experiences have been different. We believe in your inherent value and we are conveying that to you," said April Wells, the district's gifted program coordinator, at the symposium last weekend.
It is noteworthy that the district's administrators recognize the work that needs to be done. Now, it's important that they do it and that district parents and residents support them in the effort. Helping all students succeed and recognizing that it takes different approaches for different students is good for the district, the students and the community as a whole.