Black Male Teachers: Becoming Extinct?

Show Me the Numbers: There are more African-American male educators than recent reports suggest.

Generic image (Digital Vision)
Generic image (Digital Vision)

(The Root) — Many media sources have propagated the view that black male teachers are “becoming extinct.” Currently, black males represent less than 2 percent of the nation’s teacher workforce. One article suggests that black males are underrepresented in the teaching profession because they prefer to pursue more lucrative careers. The article also postulated that because black males have had negative educational experiences, they are less likely to choose a career in education.

What are the consequences of black males evading a tacit moral obligation to teach? Several years ago, CNN suggested that placing black men in the classroom could be the answer to solving problems in the black community such as gang violence, high school dropout rates and fatherless homes. According to most reports, the lack of black male teachers results in abysmal deficiencies in the educational progress of black male students.

Unfortunately, this narrative on black male teachers is based on supposition and stereotyping, not a careful analysis of the data. Males of all races are underrepresented in the U.S. teaching force. The percentage of white male students in pre-K through 12th grade is twice the percentage of white male teachers; the percentage of black male students is more than three times the percentage of black male teachers; and the percentage of Hispanic male students is almost seven times the percentage of Hispanic male teachers. Asian males represent less than 0.5 percent of the teaching force.

Later this month, Chance Lewis and I will release a book titled Black Male Teachers: Diversifying the United States’ Teacher Workforce. In the book, we suggest responsible methods of increasing the number and capacity of black male teachers, without subjecting them to differential standards of success. For this entry of Show Me the Numbers, I examine the myths used to explain the shortage of black male teachers, and why the purpose of diversifying the nation’s teacher workforce should be to benefit the teaching profession, not individual students.

Black males are not avoiding the teaching profession because they are less altruistic and more interested in lucrative careers.

Recently I conducted an analysis of the top 10 occupations among black and white males who have at least a bachelor’s degree (see table). Primary school teacher was the No. 1 profession of college-educated black men and No. 3 for white men. Secondary school teacher was No. 5 for black men and No. 14 for white men. Educational administrator was No. 6 for black men and No. 20 for white men, and counselor was No. 7 for black men and No. 40 for white men.

The occupations that were in the top 10 for college-educated white men but not for college-educated black men were lawyer, chief executive, sales representative and physician and surgeon. Overall, higher-paying occupations are more commonly held among white men, even when controlling for education. Black men who are college-educated are far more likely to be a teacher or in a range of other “helping professions.” 

Reasons for the shortage of black male teachers are diverse and nuanced.

Several reasons account for the dearth of black male teachers. First, black males are only 5.5 percent of the adult population, and 16 percent have completed college. Second, black males are less likely to major in education. In 2009, 7,603 black males and 25,725 black females graduated from college with a degree in education.