September 21, 2017

A recent NPR story amplifies what multiple studies—and people of color—have been saying for decades: when students have teachers that look like them, it helps those students go farther and achieve more in school.

The study that is the subject of the NPR story makes it clear: having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduced low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent.

Researchers attribute this to what they call the “role model effect”: if students do not have teachers with whom they can identify, and see themselves in, then they are less likely to push forward in their education. And, conversely, if teachers cannot see themselves in their students, they are less likely to encourage or push those students to achieve and are less likely to recognize structural barriers that might get in the way of a student reaching her fullest potential.

Here in Maine, ten percent of Maine students identify as non-white, yet less than three percent of Maine’s teachers identified that way. In Lewiston, where around one third of school kids identify as non-white, it appears that the school district may not employ any teachers of color.

The ACLU of Maine has spoken up about the problem of inadequate teacher diversity in Lewiston to the Lewiston Schools’ Superintendent and about the problem state-wide to the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education.

We will continue to press the issue until Maine schools more adequately reflect and serve all its students. As the data shows, kids’ futures depend on it. 

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