The Rise and Fall of Black Teachers and Principals in U.S. Public Schools Since Brown v. Board

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The effect the 1954 court ruling, Brown v. Board, had on students in the south and across the nation is a popular study. Eventually, schools across the nation black and white students attended schools together, with an equal education. However, I’m interested in understanding what happened to the teachers and the principals from the all-black public schools. What happened to this population after the implementation of the 1954 court ruling? Discussions about the lack of faculty diversity in public schools are still being had today. Black school officials were most ran public-schools, but they didn’t run the schools that were integrated. They especially were not put in charge for making decisions for school-boards post-segregation. Even in the most recent years, the numbers of black teachers and principals are low across the nation. How did the population of Black teachers and principals in our nation’s public schools change from 1960 to 2009 and why did this change occur?

The change in the population of Black teachers and principals resembles a wave. The numbers fluctuated over time. First, during the mid-1960’s, in the early years of implementing the court ruling, the numbers of Black teachers and principals declined as a result of racism that marred school desegregation. Second, from the late-60’s to the early 70’s the number of Black teachers increased in efforts to improve the diversity issue recognized by certain administrators in the south. Third, by the mid-70’s another drop in Black teacher population occurred. Black teachers were being hired at slower rates and fired at faster rates.  In recent 20 years, the number of black teachers and principals across the nation continue to be at a low. Other factors contributed to this; low graduation rates of Black students and a lack of Black applicants for teaching positions. The rise and fall of the population of Black teachers and principals were a result of the way white-run school districts chose to interpret and implement the court order. When the 1954 Brown v Board decision required southern schools to integrate, the jobs of black teachers and principals were not protected.

The NAACP convinced the supreme court that the long-standing doctrine “separate but equal” was in violation of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. The quality of the education was not equal among the racially segregated schools. When the supreme court ruled racially segregated schools were unconstitutional, school boards did not act in accordance right away. White school boards, politicians, and families refused to comply. The feeling was mutual for Black students’ and their families because integration also meant to trade in the unique solidarity that existed between the black faculty and the students at the all-black public schools, for equal education funding and quality. When integration eventually took its course, most Black teachers and principals were not included. While Black and White faces filled the seats at the newly integrated schools, the hand on the blackboard was still White. Black school officials were left high and dry by the thousands.

White politicians and school officials realized they had to comply when civil rights organization, NAACP, filed lawsuits and consistently pressured school boards to integrate. By the summer of 1965, moderation of school desegregation resistance began with Hyde County being the first school district to comply. Nonetheless, school boards created barriers that delayed integration, which included guidelines that allowed school boards to deny Black students for reasons that were motivated by race, though race was not explicitly stated. “Under the leadership of Gov. Luther Hodges, the state engineered a series of legal and administrative barriers to school integration that, although very effective, did not appear openly to defy the Supreme Court.”. One would think that a decline in teaching positions would be the reason why Black teachers are low in numbers, but studies found that Black applicants were being hired at slower rates compared to White applicants, during the mid-60’s. This was the turning point that contributed to the first dip in the population of Black teachers and principals in our nation’s public schools. The Black teachers who were hired to work in the newly integrated schools did not experience the same work environment as they did at the all-black schools. They were treated poorly by the White teachers, administrators, and the White students whom they taught. “In 1970, Crew, who was Black, joined the Hayes integration committee and was dismayed by the white students-mostly those with disciplinary problems- and white teachers the city Board of Education assigned to the school.” (Goldstein p. 119). Black teachers were assigned to classrooms where the grade level and subject area was out of the scope of their expertise, resulting in poor teacher-evaluations and student test scores. Ultimately, the seemingly underperforming Black teachers were removed from their positions for incompetence. “White school boards used a number of strategies to obscure the role racism played in decisions to terminate black educators.” (Goldstein, p. 118). This is the second contributing factor to the population dip. If they have to be hired for the sake of following constitutional provisions, manipulate the conditions so there is a reason to let them go. For the Black teachers who endured the poor working conditions, it was their duty to be a role model and a support system for the Black students who also felt intolerable by their White teachers and classmates. Administrators worried that with such little Black teachers, students would be forced to face the challenges of integration alone. “Educators and students who experienced first-hand racial desegregation of schools found themselves caught in a dilemma: the advantages of better facilities and curriculum in integrated schools vs. the attachment to schools that had become valued cultural centers, untainted by white interference.”

A rise in the population wave occurred in 1965. In response to administrations’ concern for Black students’ well-being, five hundred southern Black teachers who were displaced by the Brown ruling were hired. NAACP Lawyer, Jack Greenberg expressed that more needed to be done because Black teachers held a “uniquely important place in Southern society.” Unfortunately, despite the truth behind Greenberg’s statement on the absolute necessity and importance of having Black teachers, diversity was swept out just as fast as it was brought in. The rate of the decline in Black public school teachers and principals is astonishing.

In the following five years, according to a 1972 report on the displacement of educators in desegregated public schools, in 1970, there were only 8 Black high school principals remaining in North Carolina. North Carolina experienced the highest decline in Black public school faculty out of 8 southern states, that being 96%. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare 1972 data shows that the number of high schools grew to be 311. Surely, the population of principals grew as well. Gathered from the same data set, the population of White high school principals rose during this period from 167 to 280. While that of Black principals dropped from 44 to 31. The number of White high school principals grew by 67 percent; versus a 30 percent decline in Black principals. If the growth rate of Black principals had been in sync with the growing rate of high schools at that time, studies predict there would have been at least 65 Black principals. Evaluating this data proves that the racial disparity between Black and White principals grew. Initially (before the number of high schools increased) for every Black principal there were four times as many White principals, on average (1: 3.8). Assuming the prediction supplied by the survey is accurate, the ratio of Black to White principals would have increased by a small degree (1: 4.1). Yet, the confirmed data (the 30% decline in Black principals) reveal that the ratio increased considerably: there were nine times as many White principals than Black principals in 1972.  

Over the course of the years following school desegregation in the 1960’s, there has been a pattern in the reasons behind the rise and fall of Black teachers and principals. The then segregated,  all-black public schools had a unique education- one that reflected their experiences as Black people during that time, one where the teachers looked like the students, and one that implemented Black culture into the curriculum. The teachers were empathetic to the needs of their student because of this common ground. Not only did these customs influence the way students felt about their education, it also influenced the way teachers thought of their role as educators, leaders, and the likelihood that these teachers would return at the start of every school year. The newly racially integrated schools did not integrate those customs. This negligence continued years following. Black teachers and Black students were placed in a white world of academia- and so we are here. A 2016 report by The U.S. Department of Education on “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce” included a survey on the percentage of public school teachers who remained in the same school in 2011-12 to 2012-14. The survey indicated that Black teacher retention rate was the lowest. Amongst White, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islanders, Asian/Pacific Islander teachers rated the highest retention at 96%. Prepared teachers tend to work in poor urban schools with high proportions of students of color. These high-poverty schools tend to have higher rates of teachers who leave the profession and those who move to other schools than low-poverty schools. Even though the makeup of some classrooms resemble that of the all-black schools previous to the 1960’s, the community, the culture, and the values do not because schools across the nation have adopted that of the white-run school boards, starting post Brown v. Board. Subsequently, it is safe to assume that this loss leads to the loss of our Black teachers and principals and their willingness to stay in the profession.

Recruitment and retention of teachers of color may be affected by the larger percentage of teachers of color who participate in alternative teacher preparation programs. HBCUs and alternative routes to teacher certification tend to enroll a more racially diverse population of teacher candidates. There’s an issue with the rates in Black applicants alongside an issue with Black graduates. Between 2007 and 2009, in New Orleans, the proportion of Black teachers fell from 73% to 57%. Black teachers are leaving their positions and at the same time, less Black graduates are filling those roles. According to The Department’s Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&B) Longitudinal Study on 2008 bachelor’s degree graduates who applied to k-12 teaching positions, only  9% of all the graduates were Black, and only 15% of those who applied to teaching positions were Black. Of the small pool of graduates, the majority of them are applicants. However, on a large scale, these numbers do not compare to the number of White applicants. Additionally, the rate of students of color graduating high school and completing college reduces the number of graduates eligible for teaching positions. High school graduation rates among black students are 54 percent. Only 56 percent of black students who complete high school move on to college. The six-year graduation rate for African Americans was only 40.5 percent in 2007.

When the Supreme court ruled that state-sanctioned racially segregated schools were unconstitutional as it violated the fourteenth amendment, they did not explicitly include the professionals who were also racially segregated. Therefore, school-boards, who were at first reluctant to move into integration, interpreted the ruling in a way that did not allow many Black teachers nor principals to keep their jobs. When the court ruling was finally implemented in the 60’s, the population of Black teachers and principals fell. As the years went on, these numbers rose and fell continuously, but the decline was much greater! These reasons changed over time, from explicitly racists white administrators refusing to hire Black faculty, to Black teacher being put under circumstances that led them to be fired, then the reduction of Black graduates affecting the number of eligible teachers. Furthermore, the conditions of public schools affected the retention rate of Black teachers. The way that the school boards implemented the 1954 ruling set the stage for the state of diversity in our nation’s public schools.