U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, R&B star John Legend and Washington, D.C. Public Schools interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson traveled to Howard University on Nov. 10 to press for more diversity in teaching in urban school systems.

The performing artist echoed the educators’ message: great teachers are crucial to producing great student performance in classrooms

“I know what a good education can do for you,” Legend told the audience. “I’ve seen first-hand how teachers can change your life. They made a massive difference in mine. I’m sure great teachers have had an impact in your life as well and because you attend a great institution like Howard, I know there was someone who encouraged and challenged you and who made a difference in your lives.”

Henderson, part of the management team that engineered several waves of D.C. teacher dismissals, said good teachers can overcome distracting controversies

“We have teachers in our District who are doing amazing things for kids and I have to ensure that every single classroom in the District of Columbia Public Schools has one of those phenomenal teachers,” she said. “Right now you can figure out where the great teachers are whether we have an evaluation system or not. Parents know and most importantly students know.”

Henderson also said that, when it comes to eduction, America has not gotten it right for years. She said other countries let only the best and brightest teach, while this country steers the best and brightest into other professions. She says its time that the country antes up when it comes to producing great teachers.

“My commitment to students is if we have to die doing it, we’re going to create a system where the highest performing teachers want to come,” she continued. “The highest performing teachers won’t have to worry about where they live or can they pay their bills because we’re going to compensate them in a totally different way.”

According to Duncan, the U.S. Department of Education is looking for the next wave of teachers. He said as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement, the country will need close to a million new teachers. Therefore, through the Teach.gov website, the federal government will attempt to reach young adults from the ages of 19 through 25 with an emphasis on African-American and Latino males.

“I’m actually working very hard traveling throughout the country to make sure our teacher workforce reflects the diversity of our students,” Duncan said. “There’s a growing imbalance in terms of what our teachers and principals look like in relation to our students. Right now today, less than 2 percent–less than 1 in 50 teachers–are African-American males.

“Our young boys of color need great male role models not just at the high school level, but also at the elementary school level,” the cabinet secretary said.


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO