“We have more young black people in prison than enrolled in colleges and universities. That’s a frightening number,” Lee said.
The U.S. Department of Education reports less than 2% of teachers are black men.
“Great teachers spawn great teachers,” Lee said. “If you’re a bad teacher, you’re not going to put anything out there that is going to inspire anyone to teach.”
The lack of black male teachers is causing concern and creating action to reverse that trend in several states.
Clemson University in South Carolina launched, ‘Call Me MISTER,’ Mentors Instructing Students towards Effective Role Models, in 2000. The program’s objective is to increase the pool of minority male teachers in that state.
High school seniors who have an interest in education can apply for college scholarships as they get ready to graduate. To qualify for the scholarships in South Carolina, applicants must commit to teach at an in-state elementary school for at least four years. The idea has since spread to other states as districts as far away as Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania implement similar programs.
Duncan says to increase the number of black male teachers in the future, support needs to come from all levels of government for financial aid and loan-forgiveness. In Georgia, he has the support of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson.
We need more black male role models for the youth of America, and there’s no better way to influence children than to serve as a teacher,” said Isakson. “I encourage African-American men to go into the field of education and be role models for our kids.”
Ironically, the forum to improve education took place in a city where the public school system is under fire. Widespread cheating allegations during recent state proficiency tests in the Atlanta public schools have led to the possibility of criminal charges and the school district losing its accreditation - which could be devastating to educators and students alike.
“What you have now, frankly – you have adults who I think have lost sight why they’re doing this work,” Duncan said. “It’s what I call adult dysfunction and it’s just like a family, when adults fight, children lose. “
Duncan says the Atlanta school board is so divided that they have lost sight of their mission and he worries students here aren’t getting the education they need.