The achievement gap between white students and students of color persists despite years of efforts and interventions aimed at closing it. The gap is the most pronounced between white and African American students. Research indicates that the achievement gap exists even before children enter kindergarten and tends to widen over time.
One idea for closing the gap is for students of color to be taught by teachers who look like them. Past studies have suggested that students perform better when they can identify with their teachers and that teachers of color present an image of success for students.
These points will be familiar to anyone who has followed teacher recruitment and preparation efforts over the years. Initiatives backed by a range of funders, both public and private, have sought to get more teachers of color into schools. Big national outfits like Teach for America and the New Teacher Project address diversifying the ranks of teachers, and so do more local organizations, such as Teach Tomorrow in Oakland and the Urban Teacher Enhancement Program, in Birmingham, Alabama.
One funder that's been paying attention to this issue is the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which is both a major education funder and a foundation undertaking an ambitious effort to promote racial equity. For example, Kellogg money has backed an effort by the Wheelock College Aspire Institute, a national center focused on education and social policy, to bring more teachers of color to Boston schools.
Most recently, Kellogg invested in a program designed to improve the pipeline for teachers of color into the Washington, D.C., public school system. It awarded more than $800,000 to the DC Public Education Fund toward helping male graduates of color become early childhood paraprofessionals, providing a pathway for these young men to become certified teachers.
African American students account for two-thirds of DCPS' total enrollment. However, the proportion of African American teachers has declined over the years. More than 20 years ago, African Americans accounted for 90 percent of the DCPS' teaching force. Over the years, that proportion has shrunk to less than 60 percent.
Kellogg's $886,000 grant to the D.C. Public Education Fund aligns well with the Fund's Empowering Males of Color initiative, which aims to close the racial and ethnic achievement gap in DCPS. Over the years, D.C. has received praise for its relative success in urban education, in light of consecutive years of improved achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the biennial test often referred to as "the nation's report card." However, not many African American males have been beneficiaries of these improvements.
For Kellogg, this grant aligns with its education and early childhood interests, which often intertwine with its racial equity work. Early action to close achievement gaps have benefits for children's future educational success, and Kellogg is right to focus this program on early learning years by helping young male D.C. graduates become early childhood paraprofessionals as a gateway to a teaching career. This could be a win-win for the kids and teachers alike.