To help resolve disparities in education and opportunities for black males in the United States, the American Federation of Teachers has developed numerous recommendations aimed at achieving equity.
In a report titled “Reclaiming the Promise of Racial Equity: In Education, Economics and Our Criminal Justice System,” a union task force on racial equity found that black male students lag far behind whites in graduation rates and academic test scores, but have a much higher incidence of suspensions and arrests. In addition, the report released Friday said “the decline in the share of the teaching workforce represented by blacks also presents a significant obstacle to equality and opportunity for African-American students.”
“I am proud that the AFT is the first union in the labor movement to address the crisis facing black males in a significant way,” said task force chairwoman Lorretta Johnson, the union’s secretary-treasurer. “And for this work to continue, it will take the effort of all our members, including our white brothers and sisters, and the entire labor movement coming together.”
The report, approved Thursday by the union’s executive council, includes several recommendations the union hopes to implement in partnership with its state and local affiliates, as well as community partners.
• Funding for out-of-school suspension alternative programs that provide meaningful educational opportunities for black male students.
• Replacing zero-tolerance policies with restorative justice programs and fairer enforcement of discipline policies.
• Developing and implementing programs to help identify, recruit, train and retain black male teachers and staff.
• Providing cultural competency training to help teachers and other school staff understand their personal biases and relate better to students.
• Creating review processes in schools to ensure fair treatment of black male students.
• Developing funding strategies, mentoring and counseling programs to improve opportunities for black males to attend college.
• Developing apprenticeship programs through partnerships with trade unions to provide job training and placement for black men in careers that could lead to economic opportunities and independence.
• Continuing and expanding collaborative efforts with the Conferences of Chief Justices to bridge the gap between minority and low-income communities and court leadership and increase public trust and confidence in the states’ courts.
Three California Federation of Teachers members served on the task force, including Jefferey Freitas, who taught high school math in Carpenteria near Santa Barbara, where the student population was mostly white, Latino and Asian. Freitas, who is white, said it was eye-opening for him to hear the stories of African-Americans on the task force who talked about negative experiences with police and “micro-aggressions” from people of different ethnic backgrounds that stemmed from personal biases and racism.
“I didn’t know that,” he said. “People don’t talk about it.”
Freitas said it’s important for educators in California and throughout the country to receive “cultural competence” training to improve understanding among teachers and students. In addition, he said the union plans to offer its own training at workshops and conferences.
Although the report focused on helping black males, Freitas said he believes that actions taken to level the playing field could also help Latinos, low-income students and English learners, for whom lack of equity in educational and economic opportunities is also an issue.
“The Civil Rights movement was 50 years ago and we’re still having these same conversations,” Freitas said. “This is going to be a priority for California and that in itself is a victory – the awareness of this. Everybody involved in this is excited about this direction and motivated to move on this.”