Teacher Shortages and Wages Do Not Hinder Goals for Students
The posts which have held up the African American community have been the church, the home, and the school.
One leader who has led the crusade to improve the quality of life for black people and their children has been - the black teacher.
The selfless directive to educate and empower the black community was ignited when Senate Bill One was approved on December 18, 1907, which was also known as the coach law and the state's first Jim Crow law.
"Senate bill one began the process of segregating every facet of life for African Americans. Because we were limited and restricted in certain areas, we as a people, had to begin creating resources to accommodate and meet our needs," Bruce Fisher said.
Retired Administrative Program Officer for the Oklahoma Historical Society
Fisher is the retired administrative program officer for the Oklahoma Historical Society. He is the son of the late Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, the civil rights icon, who fought and won the right to attend Oklahoma University's (OU) law school and later served as an OU Regent.
"To achieve our goals, we had to create our own community of professionals - the doctors and the lawyers. The same holds true with education. We all lived together in one neighborhood - the maids, chauffeurs, bus boys, cooks, nannies, as well as the doctors, lawyers, and teachers. We all helped each other," Fisher said.
Blacks were only allowed to pursue higher education degrees in medicine, law, and education. Many Oklahoma black attorneys had to obtain a Juris Doctor degree from an out of state institution until Fisher integrated OU, the historian stated.
By 1907, African American teachers blended their efforts statewide and formed the Oklahoma Association for Negro Teachers (OANT). Their purpose was to expand its membership, develop leaders, and advance their knowledge base within black communities, as well as fine tune their professional in-service training.
"The black teachers were held in high regard and were respected and honored within our neighborhoods. The Oklahoma Association for Negro Teachers was the brain trust of the African American community," Fisher said. "However, the decline of OANT came after the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education," Fisher said.
Defining a livable wage
After the onset of integration, the pool of African American teachers enlarged; however, compensation remained an issue until Emma Lee Freeman, an Oklahoma City Public Schools teacher, single handedly took on the challenge by suing the district for equal compensation for service equal to whites.
"Roscoe Dunjee, the legendary newspaper publisher of the Black Dispatch and one of Oklahoma's most prominent civil right leaders, who spearheaded many state and national landmark cases that swept the country supported Freeman. Also, the local and national NAACP backed her when she filed the lawsuit in federal district court against Oklahoma County's Excise Board and against the Oklahoma City Public Schools' Board of Education. At that time, black teachers were receiving 20 percent less than their white counterparts, which equates to white teachers being paid $300 more than black teachers' salaries," Eugene DePriest Jones, III said.
Eugene DePriest Jones, III
Retired Hospital Executive/Oklahoma County Manager - Grandnephew of Emma Lee Freeman
In the March 13, 1943 issue of the Black Dispatch, the newspaper reported that Thurgood Marshall would serve as the lead NAACP attorney for the Freeman case, but local attorneys, Robert L. Carter and Amos T. Hall, filed the case in federal court.
In the October 17, 1948 issue of the Daily Oklahoman reported Edgar S. Vaught, U.S. District Judge handed down a ruling as a result of the case brought by Emma Lee Freeman. The Freeman case was dismissed after pay scales were equalized. However, Hall asked for the ruling as a guide for future cases. The ruling stated teachers must be equally qualified to draw equal pay. Additionally, the ruling said it was unlawful under the 14th Amendment for any of the defendants to discriminate as to salaries between teachers in the majority schools and teachers in the separate schools on account of race.
|Emma Lee Freeman sued OKCPS for equal wages for black teachers|"The irony of all this is Freeman, who is my grand-aunt, is the great-grand aunt of the honorable U.S. Federal Magistrate Judge, Bernard M. Jones, who serves in the same 10th circuit court, where she had filed her lawsuit in 1947. Bernard is her great-grandnephew," Jones said.
|The Honorable U.S. Federal Magistrate Judge, Bernard Jones|
According to Jones, teacher salaries were equalized almost overnight from across the state.
Oklahoma ranks 49th in the nation for teacher pay. According to a January 14, 2016 Journal Record article entitled Prosperity Policy: Teacher Shortage a Growing Problem, stated the average teacher with five years of experience earns $34,000 today compared with $36,000 nine years ago, measured in 2015 dollars. Oklahoma teacher salaries are about 16 percent lower than in Texas and 28 percent lower than median salaries for similar workers in Oklahoma's private sector.
Change Seldom Alters Trends
Today, all educators share some of the same struggles - low pay and teacher shortages. However, the current difference is there are fewer black and other teachers of color populating Oklahoma and the nation's classrooms.
The real test is attempting to get more teachers in classrooms who look like the students they teach.
A Local and National Cultural Rift
In Oklahoma, there is a racial teacher and student divide, according the Oklahoma Watch's article With Teachers and Students, A Racial Divide, published on December 21, 2015.
The article stated school leaders and education experts say a more diverse teacher corps is needed to establish positive role models for students and to better ensure teachers connect culturally with students. In 2012-2013, Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) had only 25 percent of teachers that are black, Hispanic, Asian or American Indian with 80 percent of students of color. Within the same school year, Tulsa Public Schools had 21 percent of teachers who were from minority groups, compared with its 64 percent of the student population of color.
Robyn Miller, the Oklahoma State Department of Education's deputy superintendent for educator effectiveness and policy research told the Oklahoma Watch that teachers of color are leaving at a higher rate than white teachers.
The Oklahoma Watch reported the numbers of Hispanic children are growing in OKCPS, and according to OKCPS spokesman, Mark Myers, "it's important for students from large urban districts to have teachers from similar backgrounds they can connect with," he said.
Currently, 47 percent of the OKCPS district's population is Hispanic the Oklahoma Watch reported.
In the February 17, 2016 issue of Education Week published the article Black Male Teachers a Dwindling Demographic, shared a report tagged, "The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education". Within the article appeared the2015 Albert Shanker Institute, report which stated nationally, nonwhite teachers are being hired at a higher rate proportional rate than other teachers, but they're also leaving the profession at a higher rate.
"Nationwide, there is a disconnect between supply and demand for teachers. The number of Oklahoma teacher candidates has declined by about 24 percent over the last eight years, and the teachers serving in high poverty, minority students are in less desirable workplaces," Miller told the Oklahoma Watch.
The Oklahoma Watch's article went on to say that one result of the trend: The least experienced teachers tend to work in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan area districts, which generally have higher levels of students of a low socioeconomic status, according to a report the Oklahoma Department of Education released this year.
In addition, Education Week reported across the nation, nonwhite teachers tend to be concentrated in schools serving high-poverty communities, often in high-stakes environments where demands to raise test scores can trump other needs such as culturally responsive curriculum and social-emotional learning.
"During the days of integration, the more experienced African American teachers were reassigned to prominently white schools, and the less experienced white teachers were assigned to the African American schools, a practice that is perpetuated today," according to Jones.
Many school administrators agree that diversity within Oklahoma schools is necessary to reach all children.
"Being blessed with a diverse community, it is important to have as a goal to create a diverse staff within our school. The school personnel should indicate the community itself. Such a staff is able to model and demonstrate how different people can care for one another and work as a unit. Our students see themselves reflected in the faces and voices of the staff. That fact is powerful for the students," Janalyn Taylor, principal of Nance Elementary School in Clinton.
|Dr. Tanisha Billingslea, Frederick Douglass High School Librarian/Teacher with Oklahoma City Public Schools|
An African American teacher/librarian answers the call
Local and national headlines tell a story that the number of teachers of color is being depleted in epidemic proportions.