Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Importance Of Increasing Black Male Teachers Through Alternative Teacher Certification Requirements by Akindele Akinyemi

Governor Jennifer Granholm spoke on the issues of the economy here in Michigan last night in a town hall meeting in Grand Rapids last night. While she spoke and dodged issues on job growth once again she never talk about the actual root cause of the decrease of job growth here in Michigan.

Educational quality.

I am not talking about the No Workers Left Behind program that is primary geared towards health care. I am not talking about the 3100 jobs that are coming to Michigan that most people will not be qualified to even get hired because of education.

This is one state that we never talk about serious educational reform. While the economy continues to be the dominant issue in Michigan our state leads the nation in unemployment at 7.1 percent and has lost nearly 400,000 manufacturing jobs in the past eight years. The state's home foreclosure rate, another indicator of economic weakness, ranks sixth in the nation.

What about the number of people who are retiring from education (both classroom and administration) this year? Who are going to replace them?

In order to stimulate job growth in the state we have to stimulate educational quality. The main problem is that under No Child Left Behind teachers must be highly qualified in their subjects areas. First, why are we nationalizing education when it states nowhere in the Constitution of the United States that education should be controlled by the federal government. Second, what is the real definition of a teacher being highly qualified? I will tell you this. Out of a 55 minute period on any given day a teacher may get 15-20 minutes of actual classroom instruction because you have to deal with behavior issues that most College of Education coursework are not ready to deal with urban educational issues.

So, again, what is highly qualified? Is it a teacher in the classroom that is going along with the status quo and preparing our children to work for someone else for the rest of their lives or are we empowering our children to become self-sufficient?

Our urban areas need serious educational reform.

The changing face of education in places like Detroit and Grand Rapids spells the end of “business as usual” for teacher preparation programs. The growing shortage of well-qualified teachers statewide requires such programs to increase teacher candidates’ rate of completion and entry into the profession, train candidates specifically to teach in the subjects and schools in greatest need and help stem the troubling exodus of young teachers from the profession. Teacher preparation programs also must find ways to accommodate the growing interest in teaching among mid-career professionals. And they must respond to the growing focus on student achievement standards, and ensure that all of their graduates are qualified and able to teach to the standards.

Improving teacher preparation programs, however, is only part of the solution. New teachers are not finished products. Districts and schools that hire new teachers bear responsibility for making sure that they are provided good mentoring and a strong induction program during the first few years of their career to bolster their preparation. Induction programs also have become a key strategy to address the teacher shortage because of their promise for increasing the retention of new teachers.

Over the next ten years, a wave of veteran teacher retirements and a surge in student enrollments are expected to produce widespread, severe teacher shortages across the country. To address the looming crisis, other states outside of Michigan are implementing alternative routes to teaching.

Of course, Gov. Granholm and State Lawmakers here in Michigan never talks about setting up alternative teacher certification programs for potential qualified teachers. The argument that I often hear from liberal educators is that it is impossible to make sweeping conclusions about alternative routes to certification because the quality of alternative programs is so variable. Moreover, there are no conclusive studies comparing alternative and traditional programs. Internal studies commissioned by some alternative programs -- which, because they are internal, are not completely reliable -- indicate their students compare favorably to traditionally prepared students in terms of classroom effectiveness and retention in the profession.

We know that alternative teacher certification requirements are necessary in Michigan because families do not have to time, energy and in many cases the money to go back to school, take on a rigorous school schedule, take a basic studies test that over half of those taking the test fail the math portion of the test on their first or second try, thus, spending more money to just take that one portion of the test and taking an additional subject area examination(s) that has nothing to do with the subject that you are prepared to teach. Plus, when you student teach you are doing it as an unpaid internship. How do you feed your children and contribute to your family household if you are working with bad ass children all day and not get paid?

You see, in order to begin educational reform you have to change the dynamics of how you are bringing in teachers into the profession. I cannot count on my fingers and toes of how many people want to be teachers and get this, do not mind being certified. The problem is they cannot support their families on the present certification system that is set up in Michigan. Anytime a politician brag about how rigorous Michigan certification's requirements are I often ask myself is that person even thinking about the families that are affected.

While officials estimate the need for new teachers at 210,000 a year for the next decade, the supply of new teacher graduates jumped almost 50 percent during the last 15 years--from 134,870 in 1990 to 200,545 in 2005. According to the National Center for Education Information, more than 24,000 of these new teachers were certified through alternative programs: three times more than 10 years ago. The number of teachers certified through these programs now totals over 125,000.

But Michigan will not budge. We pride ourselves off certification requirements that is so rigorous that after three years most teachers leave the profession of education. So what do you do next?

Washington DC, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Texas are some of the states and districts that offer alternative teacher certification. Where is Michigan on this issue?

The other educational reform that we will never talk about in Michigan ever is the lack of Black male teachers in the classroom in urban areas. While I often debate with my White friends about race, class and gender if the classroom most of them feel that race or gender should not matter. But these White educators who I get along with are no longer teaching in the inner city because of cultural clashes, lack of respect and what Black children have heard in the home in terms of how "racist" White people can be in society.

Now this is not to say that all White teachers cannot handle the pressure of the inner city because I have seen and know White teachers that have touched the lives of many Black boys and girls in the classroom. However, they too are wondering where are the Black men in education.

Young Black boys--and girls too, need to see more Black male role models. And teachers, are among the most visible role models children see in the community, educators say.

I am for pushing MORE Black men in education period through alternative teacher certification requirements here in Michigan. Not just in the classroom but in educational administration/leadership, educational policy, higher education and even if elected to political office sit and help craft educational policies that are family friendly.

One thing I have noticed the 8 years I have been in education in a teaching or mentoring capacity is how White teachers race and conclude that a majority of our Black boys should be placed on Ritalin or some other mind controlling substance that often leads to other side effects including death. Most of our Black boys do not need medicine. They need an ass whopping. Period.

But if we are going to talk about serious educational reform in our classroom we need to recruit more Black male educators. Students relate better to teachers who, in short, look like them. Research shows those students might score higher, too.

Yet few Black men are going into teaching, and few incentives are being offered to change that here in Michigan. Pay is low, teaching is still widely viewed as women's work and for college-educated black men, doors of opportunity are swinging open elsewhere. To date, there is only one program that offers Black men teaching preparation and that is the Griot Program at Marygrove College in Detroit.

But I would like to share with Black men who may be reading this to think twice about switching your career. You see, those women who started in Detroit Public Schools back in the 70s teaching those core subjects are now in power all across the educational board. They are principals, curriculum specialists, purchasers, grant directors, assistant principals and superintendents. It is NOT a coincidence that I can work in any K-12 school and not see any Black men teaching or working in an administrative capacity. While there are many Black male certified teachers in Detroit, most cannot find work not because they are not qualified to teach but these women who are in power are playing a deadly game of control. They feel comfortable around estrogen and not too much male energy. Because women are nurturers by nature they still cuddle our Black boys even into puberty and beyond.

This is why we need Black men in the education game. Statistics show that black male students are more likely than any other group to flunk tests, be disciplined and be placed in special education classes. Fewer than half graduate. Barely a third go to college.

Education observers across the country see a link between the gloomy statistics and the scarcity of black male teachers.

In elementary school, "black boys determine education is a girl/woman thing, and they get behind," says U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, an Illinois Democrat who has sponsored legislation to nudge black men into early childhood education. Not one State Lawmaker has approached me in Michigan on ANY level to sponsor ANY legislation to bring in alternative methods to enhance Black male teachers in urban communities. We should know by now that the lack of education is a serious threat to national security. Most of us do not even know how this can all tie in with economic development in our respective communities.

Black teachers communicate better with Black children. They're better at keeping their attention. They're more likely to hold them to higher standards. They make them feel more comfortable.

Little things can make a difference - a bit of slang, an example based on a shared cultural experience. I use this sometimes and I get their attention. Now they are ready to learn.

African-American men can have a positive impact on the epidemic of academic failure facing African-American boys in American education. The vast majority of African-American men in America's prisons read little better than the average third grader. This situation, of course, is a scandal. However, this situation can also be fixed. We must assist our single mothers and the overwhelmingly female teacher corps prepare our boys to work in economic systems that do not lead to their incarceration or early death.

Black men would consider teaching if society would place a higher premium on the profession. Unfortunately, teaching no longer carries the honor that it once carried in society. If teaching was more respected it would not only appeal to Black men but more qualified professionals in general.

I know Gov. Granholm will not support the increase of Black male teachers because her children are not being taught by us. However, the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus MUST promote this form of educational reform and quality so we can be moving in the right direction. So far, the only person who have come forward in supporting alternative teacher certification requirements is Oakland County Commissioner Mike Rogers from Farmington Hills. State Representative candidate Carol Banks (District 3 in Detroit) supports the measure as well. Both are ALREADY endorsed by me for office on the simple fact that they understand the severity of this issue.

I hope and challenge other elected officials and candidates to step forward and join me in sparking the discussion on increasing Black men teachers through alternative teacher certification requirements here in Michigan.

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