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Changing the Unacceptable: Aspiring to Educate First Anniversary Message

Tags: Education
November 20, 2020 08:00 AM
By: Sharif El-Mekki, Founder/CEO, Center for Black Educator Development

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“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” —Angela Davis

Last year today, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took a noteworthy step to change the unacceptable: a predominant white educator workforce that is proven to diminish Black and Brown children’s academic achievements.

A national first, Aspiring to Educate (A2E) was carefully designed to ensure Black and Brown children do not endure 13 years of education without a teacher who reflects their race, ethnicity, and worldviews.

A2E is rebuilding a teacher-of-color corps systematically gutted by the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As white schools integrated, Black educators were overlooked, demoted, or fired. In a few years’ time, the racial composition of the teaching corps changed.

The Commonwealth is no exception. Pennsylvania has one of the least diverse teaching workforces in the country with 5.6 percent teachers of color and 33.1 percent students of color.

Black children are often the most researched and least taught. Studies show students with like-minded educators are not unfairly disciplined but expected to achieve. Black students with two Black instructors early on are 32 percent more likely to enroll in college. For low-income Black boys, the high school graduation rate soars to 40 percent. Research confirms what Black communities know: Black educators dramatically impact student’s futures.

When teachers serve as mirrors that show students a new view of the world, they excel. Better grades, harder courses, greater expectations.

Aspiring to Educate has a distinct three-tier focus to fortify the student-to-educator pipeline:

●      High school juniors get dual enrollment in college courses to earn 30 credits towards teacher certification

●      College students working towards teacher certification for hiring priority

●      College graduates with non-education bachelor's degrees interested in becoming teachers for accelerated teacher certification

Pennsylvania institutions of higher education that once competed for the minuscule numbers of teachers-to-be of color are now collaborating. Under the former leadership of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, and now Acting Secretary Noe Ortega, such a complex effort could not be without major partners: the School District of Philadelphia, Community College of Philadelphia, Cheyney, West Chester, Temple, Drexel, Arcadia, and Cabrini universities, and the Center for Black Educator Development. There is too much at stake for us not to unite.

Let us be clear—what is sought are not just teachers of color, but education activists.

Dr. Martin Ryder convinced me teaching was a pure form of fighting for racial and educational equity. That honest and empowering reflection made my decision to change my career practical.

It is nearly impossible to fathom the impact of an educator activist of color leading a classroom of like-minded students focused on their educational excellence through racial and social justice with trauma healing.

It is nearly impossible to imagine these students graduating from high school, college, and graduate school armed with skills and confidence to live their purpose. Multiply them by thousands, and a new Commonwealth exists. Aspiring to Educate works to make the impossible tangible. We are working to change the unacceptable.

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