On January 28, 2016, I attended the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce luncheon where Calvert County School Superintendent Dr. Dan Curry presented a report on “State of the Calvert County Public Schools” which by all estimates was refreshingly optimistic and upbeat. In fact, I believe it was truly a compliment to the staff and their efforts to maintain high standards of accomplishments in Calvert schools. With a high school graduation rate over 94 percent, the school systems is highly ranked statewide. I was also impressed with Curry’s report on school maintenance which also ranks very high.
Yet, however optimistic Curry’s overall report was, there was one area of continuing concern and that is the state of minority achievement (African Americans in particular) in Calvert County schools. The disaggregated data on African American students points to a need to look more closely at how well minorities students are faring in Calvert.
In his presentation, Curry reported that one of his goals and that of the Board of Education’s was to ensure minority kids see people just like themselves in the schools. However, today the majority of African Americans in the Calvert school system are not teachers and professionals, but the highly valued and much needed support staff. It’s ironic that they are represented within the schools at about 13 percent of the staff which is very closely to the county’s African Americans demographic number. While, African American professional and teacher staff are represented at around six percent- less than half of its county demographic. See Figure I. below which illustrates the low number of minority teachers in Calvert and the limited capacity to add more minorities on Calvert’s staff.
Curry noted that within Calvert, the White demographic is 72 percent of the population. But in actual numbers, the teachers on the school staff are at a loop-sided demographic of 92 percent, equaling 1,084 teachers. The 28 percent minority population is noticeably under-represented, with African Americans and Hispanics accounting for less than 6 percent of the staff.
I don’t want to challenge the numbers but ask a more basic questions as to why it has not been an important issue before? Then I’d like to offer a body of research that concludes that all students do much better in their classwork when they can relate to the person teaching or providing the instruction. It not only the minority kids that fare better, but all students learning is improved to better navigate in a multicultural world. One white child lamented that she had never had a black male teacher since being in Calvert schools. Well, how about this: not one of my five black kids have ever had a black male teacher in their classes here in Calvert, either. Who’s not being well-served? It looks like everyone isn’t, except those that make these conscious decisions on who will teach our children.
Then you look at elementary school data across the Calvert schools, you’ll see two things: more White kids in honors- beyond their demographic of 72 percent and less African American kid in honors below their 13 percent demographic.
Dr. Curry’s six percent number (current African American teachers on staff) has an interesting correlation because it is real close to the number of African American kids that were actually enrolled in elementary honor classes in 2015. Would that mean: that if we got the number of African American elementary teachers up in Calvert, we might have more African American elementary students in honors?
No, it is not that simple. It would certainly help and would bode well for the numbers of African American students going into middle school and beyond. The simple fact is there are a host of reasons why the African American elementary students aren’t getting into the more rigorous courses and one answer is simple bias.
Looking at 2014 county data (provided by the county) across a number of elementary schools on teachers’ perception of students potential for honors-level instruction, I found it astonishing that the African American students’ were rated by teachers at an alarming lower rating- at the bottom. The perception score was 30% less than that of other minorities, giving me the sinking feeling that these kids weren’t just fighting against testing and then scoring high, but also against biases of which they were losing the struggle. In fact the teachers’ ratings of African American students were so low, that this year I was told by the administration they were minimizing the weight of teachers’ input on kids ability to take honors-level courses.
Problem solved? Well, I don’t really think so. Even though I found that to be a small victory, I want to ask a more basic questions as to why it has not been important to those before on addressing this seeming unconscious or maybe it is not so unconscious bias?
So, after doing some scrubbing of that 2014 data on elementary teachers’ perception, I concluded with some degree of confidence-that every school year there are somewhere around 41 African American students that aren’t going to be afforded honors-level instruction. And, then when you look at middle school the situation doesn’t get better because building a foundation begins early back in elementary school. Those 41 students go into middle school not fully prepped, tabbed to be low-achievers without the prerequisite ability to achieve, and then we wonder why our African American student numbers in high school honors and AP course are so low.
The Maryland 2013 Teacher of the Year, once told me he took young African American male students- who resided in Baltimore- and made them into English scholars based on his intentions and the intensity of his instruction. He knew beforehand that they could achieve, never settling for them being projected as under-achiever or lacking ability. Josh Parker is a African America instructor who has had a long history of working with kids to make them succeed.
I’m convinced that there must be some level of increase intensity and intentionally brought to bear on improving the academic achievement of our elementary African American students. It must start here and be carried onto the higher grades. Not having African American teachers in the classroom is really only one symptom of a greater problem within our schools. Elementary African American students being negatively perceived as not having the ability to take more rigorous instruction is another symptom of that greater problem.
But, here is the real problem: we have to personally accept responsibility for our actions. Individually, each of us makes an impact on these kids’ future and whether consciously or unconsciously. We need to ensure that our biases are shelved and we are not underserving the next generation.