It’s a key problem facing many plaguing urban schools: How to keep students of color in class and how to raise their graduation rates.
At Dominguez High School in Compton, administrators are taking a back-door approach, getting male teachers of color to help keep students of color in class and engaged.
“The research shows clearly that when male teachers of color are in front of students of color the students tend to achieve at higher levels,” said Blaine Watson, principal of Dominguez High School.
The numbers are proof: For black male students, having at least one black teacher in grades 3 through 5 cuts the black male dropout rate by 40%.
The challenge, according to UC Berkeley professor Travis Bristol, is to recruit, train and retain male teachers of color in the classroom.
Bristol says male teachers of color are rare in California – making up less than 10% of the workforce – and national turnover rates for black and Hispanic male teachers are 50% higher than for women of color.
“The primary driver for teacher turnover is poor administrative leadership,” Bristol said. “Teachers leave their principals, they do not leave their students.”
Bristol and John Reveles from Cal State Northridge developed a new mentoring program called the Compton Male Teachers of Color Network.
The program brings teachers of color together, to compare notes on classroom tools that work. It includes shadowing each other during class instruction and weekend sessions where school administrators seek feedback from their teachers of color on campus-wide challenges.
“We had a huge chronic absenteeism rate, right? Dismal,” Watson said.
Dominguez High School in Compton Unified is the first school in the country to incorporate Bristol’s program. Eighty-seven percent of the campus is Latino, 11 percent black.
“If we’re going to lower turnover for teachers of color we have to attend to improving the working conditions in their schools,” Bristol said.
“When you look at the academic growth, you look at absenteeism, you look at truancy, all of these numbers have improved and we believe that this will not just benefit Dominguez, this can benefit our entire school system,” said Micah Ali, with the Compton Unified School District.
Long-time Dominguez High School teacher Marco Godinez says the three-year program is working – giving young teachers what they need to be motivated to stay in the classroom and serve as role models for the young eyes looking up at them.
“It makes it for the kids to see wow, males of color can have professional jobs, they can see themselves in that teacher,” Godinez said.