How To Fix America’s Black Teacher Shortage

Low-income African American students have a higher chance of graduating from high school and attending college if they have had at least one Black teacher. They are also more likely to be recommended for gifted programs and less likely to be suspended or expelled when a Black teacher is present in their lives.

The problem, however, is that there is a shortage of Black teachers, especially in public schools where the majority of low-income Black students are enrolled. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, only 7% of teachers in the U.S. are Black.

The Sachs Foundation, located in Colorado Springs, CO, is determined to address the scarcity of Black teachers and has been since its inception over 90 years ago. In Colorado, only 1.5% of teachers are Black. Brian Ralston, President of the Sachs Foundation, shared that many of the Black students that the foundation provides scholarships to feel pressured to study business or engineering instead of teaching in order to pay back student loans and provide for their futures. They want to be educators, but the financial struggles involved in that choice make it very difficult. Ralston stated, “Higher education is so expensive in terms of the loans and the time invested. The lack of income potential is a huge barrier for first generation and low-income students of color – who want to get a return on the money and time they invested in their education.”

In order to solve this problem, the Sachs Foundation identified every barrier it could think of to African Americans becoming teachers and decided to create a teacher development program to counter these barriers. The program works with college and university education schools in Colorado to identify Black undergraduate students who are considering a career in education. In order to counter barriers, the Foundation funds exploratory opportunities for these undergraduates, including summer fellowships. They also commit to fully funding students’ masters degrees in teaching as well as any teacher certification costs. Once students graduate, if they get a teaching position in Colorado, the Foundation gives them a stipend of $10,000/year for three years in supplementary income, funding for classroom materials, and professional development support. Overall, the Foundation is investing roughly $150,00 in each student in order to build a cohort of Black teachers who are teaching across Colorado. According to Ralston, “The goal is to create an ecosystem in Colorado of developing Black teachers, having them inspire young Black students, and having those students grow up, with the hope that they become educators as well.”

Of the 178 school districts in Colorado, nearly 130 of them have zero Black educators. Ralston shared, “If you are a Black student in one of those school districts, you will never see somebody who looks like you teaching in a classroom, educating you.” He added, “If we support the production of Black teachers, we can have an impact on the lives of Black students in powerful ways.”

Jordan Bates is one of the future Black teachers in the Sachs Foundation’s teacher development program. He is committed to being an educator for two reasons. First, he wants to contribute to the “much-needed representation of Black male educators, especially in early childhood education.” He shared, “We all know the stats on how children of color perform much better when they see themselves represented positively in the classroom.” Second, he understands how unconscious bias tends to be more prominent when students aren’t exposed to people who are different from them. He shared, “Early contact decreases bias, so if I can be that contact for even one person, that would be enough.”

Bates, who is enrolled at Colorado College — a partner in the teacher development program — is majoring in chemistry and minoring in education. He is also active in student government, and plays viola, cello, bassoon, piano, and guitar. Given his diverse skills, he has much to bring to a classroom, a school, and to children. Although he is supported by the Sachs Foundation in myriad ways, the access to opportunities he might never encounter is the most significant benefit from his perspective.

In order to foster more interest in teaching careers on the part of Black students, and support Black educators in their roles, “it is essential that funders support initiatives like that of the Sachs Foundation.” Ben Ralston recalled, “I grew up believing that race was not an issue in my community because we had a teaching core that reflected the student body [in my school]. It wasn’t until I left Colorado and worked in other areas that I began to understand the need for equity. I realized that the community I grew up in had huge disparities based on the school district one was a part of.” He added, “If there is an organization that is going to stand up and say, ‘this is a huge problem, we need to get more Black educators for these Black students otherwise we are failing them’ — if the Sachs Foundation isn’t the first one to say it, it’s not going to be said. We felt we had a responsibility. I feel I have a responsibility to do something.”