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VCU education professor discusses his new research into how schools can better recruit and retain black male special education teachers

By Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs
bwmcneill@vcu.edu, 804-827-0889

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Photo of African American boy looking at chalkboard with his back to the camera, scratching his head

Without teacher representation and retention, black students can go their entire school career without even seeing a black male teacher, said LaRon Scott, Ed.D., an assistant professor in the VCU School of Education.

School districts across the country are struggling to close the racial gap in the teaching workforce and hire more black teachers — particularly male teachers — who are more likely attuned to the cultural needs of black students, thereby creating a space for positive academic achievement.

A new study, Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Black Male Special Education Teachers, by LaRon A. Scott, Ed.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the VCU School of Education, and Quentin Alexander, Ph.D., an assistant professor of counseling education at Longwood University, aims to help school systems diversify their teacher workforce, with a particular emphasis on black males teaching special education.

Scott recently discussed his study, which will be published in a forthcoming special issue of the journal Remedial and Special Education.

How would you describe this study's key findings?

Dr. LaRon Scott

LaRon Scott, Ed.D.

The findings indicate that recruiting and retaining black male teachers, particularly black male special education teachers, as a mean for diversifying the special education teacher workforce, will require that higher education institutions and school districts reconsider their strategies for recruiting and retaining black men.

How difficult would it be for school districts to implement the strategies your study recommends?

In fact, it would not be too difficult for school districts to implement the strategies. Higher education institutions and school divisions will need to re-evaluate their short- and long-terms goals regarding pathways of diversifying the teacher workforce; but many of the strategies have been posited in the literature.

Higher education institutions and school districts will need to consider redirecting some existing funds for recruitment and retention, but ultimately if the strategies are implemented effectively it will save school districts costs by not having to rehire teachers each year. Special education teachers leave the field at a higher rate than general education teachers. Teachers of color are also leaving the field at alarming rates. Male teachers and teachers of color represent a small fraction of the teacher pipeline and in-service teachers.

This study combines all of these variables to provide strategies for higher education institutions and school districts seeking to attract, educate and keep male teachers of color.

What implications does this research have for school districts across the country?

“For thousands of black students in special education who are influenced by a systemic cultural incongruence, the fact is that they could go through their entire K-12 programs without interactions [with] or the presence of a black male teacher.”

The need to close the racial gap between teachers and students within Virginia, and across the country, has been noted locally in research and policy for decades.

While only 2 percent of the teaching workforce are black men, and only a small fraction of that alarming number are special education teachers, the need for more black male special education teachers is that much more evident. We know that black male teachers contribute to higher academic achievement of students, and can positively influence mentoring and other behaviors of students.

Why is it important for schools to recruit and retain black male special education teachers?

Black boys labeled with a disability are subjected to poor educational outcomes. Special education is at a unique disadvantage because of the smaller ratio of black male teachers based on the disproportionately larger rate of black students, particularly black boys, enrolled in special education (Sample, 2010).

Many experts have cited concerns about professionals who misunderstand cultural nuances exhibited by black students and cite concerns about their decision-making when it comes to placement, suspension and academic teaching of black male children in special education programs (Ford, 2012; Jones-Goods, 2016; Talbert-Johnson, 2001; Terrill & Mark, 2000).

In particular, black students in special education have faced systemic biases with disproportionality, behavior misunderstandings, misdiagnoses, and academic underachievement (Douglas et al., 2008; Ward, 2010). For thousands of black students in special education who are influenced by a systemic cultural incongruence, the fact is that they could go through their entire K-12 programs without interactions [with] or the presence of a black male teacher.

As a result, students solely rely on their academic, social and interpersonal needs being met by special education teachers who represent racial and gender backgrounds that may be widely different.

How does this study fit into your larger body of research?

My larger body of research focuses on the teacher shortage crisis. In particular, an area of my research focuses on the retention and attrition of teachers of color in higher education programs and in the K-12 careers.

The intersection of race and gender on the recruitment of teachers, particularly in special education, and the inequities in recruiting and retaining special education teachers is a focus.

In my time at VCU, I have received grant funds aimed at recruiting and preparing teachers for the workforce. In that time, I have built a program that has doubled the number of minority teachers invested in training to become special education teachers, and those committed to working in our local schools. The number of male special education teachers has also doubled. Interestingly, some of the strategies employed were validated in the study.

Does this study have implications beyond special education?

While this study focuses on special education teachers, the implications can be generalized to the general education teacher workforce. I would encourage that general education teacher workforce to strongly consider the recommendations.

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