Robert Croston
Robert Croston
Robert Croston

0 1 1.

No, I’m not writing binary code.

These numbers represent the number of black male teachers that I had between kindergarten and college. That’s zero in elementary school, one in high school and one in college.

Two of my nieces attend two different comprehensive high schools located in the south suburbs of Chicago. I recently asked them about black male teachers at their schools. One niece, a freshman, could not name a single one.  My second niece, a junior, could only recall black male educators working as substitute teachers while coaching athletics. It’s been nearly 15 years since I graduated high school, and it appears that little has changed.

As a black male myself, my chances of being incarcerated are 1 in 3, far higher than the 1 in 25 chance of my having a black male teacher at any point in my educational career. To be fair, three of my K-12 school administrators were black males. Even the superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools at the time of my enrollment was a black male, Howard Fuller. Yet there is more hard work to be completed to diversify the teacher workforce.

Fewer than 7 percent of educators nationwide are black. According to the National Center for Education Information Profile of Teachers in the U.S. 2011, only 6 of the 928 teachers surveyed for this nationally representative survey were black males.

Although black males make up only 9 percent of public school students nationwide, 20 percent of students considered to have significant cognitive impairment are black males.

That’s why a coalition of education groups are uniting around a national campaign called TeachStrong focused on elevating and modernizing the teaching profession, with a deliberate emphasis on diversifying the teaching workforce.

There are also groups intent on increasing the supply of Illinois teachers from low-income, minority families, including the Golden Apple Scholars program, which since 1989 has sponsored and supported more than 800 teachers who are still working in 500 needy schools statewide. And while half of those are teachers of color, only a small number are black males.

Less than half of black male students graduate high school within four years, and 80 percent of students with individualized education programs are black and Latino males. With such damning odds against black male students, diversifying the teacher workforce cannot wait until college and job fairs. There must be a sense of urgency. Educators can increase the pool of black male teacher candidates by delivering learning experiences that guarantee that all black males are reading at grade level by 3rd grade.

The effects of urban poverty have been considered more detrimental to urban youth than crack cocaine. The intentional redlining and racial segregation of urban spaces also contributes to the limited opportunities and outcomes of black males. Even so, if we are going to reduce the impact of social class on urban education and increase the number of black males in the profession, educators of black males have a responsibility to celebrate black males every day.

Schools have to do more to support our black male students than merely expect them to fit into schools that are predominately white and female. Black males’ experience should be recognized through studying the lives of Frederick Douglass, Richard Wright, and the Three Doctors. Not Chief Keef.

If we are going to diversify the profession of teaching, educators must assume a dogged determination to educate black males at a young age to be neighborly and scholarly, to stay engaged and to use teamwork. You do not have to be a computer scientist to figure out that the inner workings of our leading democratic institutions, public schools, are perpetuating the lack of diversity in our workforce. We have to teach strong.

Robert Croston is the Harvard-educated principal of Jenner Academy of the Arts, a neighborhood school on the Near North Side, and a youth leader at his local church. He lives on the South Side of Chicago with his wife, Sheena.

Melissa Sanchez is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email her at and follow her on Twitter at @msanchezMIA.

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