Black Parents Want GOOD Teachers, Not Necessarily Black Ones


A widely reported study out of the University of Houston, claiming that there is no added academic benefit for black students when they have black teachers, severely misses the point. As any black parent who has had a few years of experience in American schools can tell you, it’s the quality of the teacher, not the teacher’s skin color, that is the critical issue affecting student achievement. We all want GOOD teachers for our kids, not necessarily black teachers.

But there is a further point to be made here. I believe that when a black teacher is really good, which means she has the ability to get your child to see herself differently, to believe in herself, to start looking at the world in a different way, it can have an even deeper impact on a black child than with a white teacher who is equally good. It’s sort of like finding a love partner of a different race—of course a white woman can be just as good a partner to me as a black woman, but all things being equal, I don’t think a white woman will ever be able to understand me and all the cultural, historical, psychological and emotional issues that are lodged deep in my psyche, carried in my blood, the way a black woman would. I think the same is true of good teachers.

I have seen this in my own life, I have seen it repeatedly as an education reporter for a decade in New York and New Jersey, and now I’m seeing it again in the lives of my children.

For a young black child, there is nothing quite as life-altering as encountering a teacher who looks like them, who understands them on a deep, almost psychic level, and who pushes them to succeed far beyond their wildest dreams. Yes, a white teacher can also do all of these things, and I have had some wonderful white teachers, as have my children, but in my experience the connection is just more intense when the teacher seems to know you better than you know yourself, when the teacher has lived your life, walked in your shoes, seen the world through your eyes. And those things are almost impossible for a black child to feel when the teacher is white.

As a black student, you want to hear everything that a special black teacher has to say because you know the words are authentic, you want to do your best to make that teacher proud, you want that teacher to see you at your heights. It is a magical formulation—one that doesn’t get probed at all with a study such as the one done by the University of Houston researcher that merely looked at black student standardized test scores at schools with mostly black teachers and compared them to black student scores at schools with mostly white teachers.

“In this particular study, I was surprised to see that the campuses with more African-American teachers did not have the highest African-American student achievement. This just goes to show that having a positive impact on students is a complex, multi-layered process,” said the researcher, Walter Hunt.

This is where I put on my education reporter hat: There are so many factors at play when you are analyzing student data at schools where most of the teachers are black—those schools tend to be poorer than schools with mostly white teachers because white teachers with tenure are going to try to avoid poor black schools if they can, those schools tend to get the least experienced teachers (which means they will likely have more discipline problems), those schools tend to have students who come from families with less money. There’s just so much going on that you can’t conclude that black teachers don’t make a difference. What makes the biggest difference are GOOD black teachers. So in a sense, the conclusions of this researcher are almost meaningless.


1. When It Comes To the Best Schools, Where Are the Black Students?
2. A Black Mom’s Lament: How Can We Parents Stop Schools From Failing Our Kids?
3. Mind Control: Raising A Critical Thinker




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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. In our city majority of the public schools are African American in both the student and teacher population; with that, all of the schools are D and F graded schools. It is sad but true. In addition, the school board members and staff is predominately black. It is like they don’t know how to run anything and more so that they care less about the students they are involved with. I wish I was involved in some way to change things, but it is all bureaucratic and they serve to protect only themselves.

    That being said, when whites were attending the public schools (and heading the schools and boards) – it was an opposite scenario where D and F school were in the minority (hardly heard of). What is it all about!?!

    It seems as though there are also many other factors that need to be examined as it relates to current school grade results as it relates to African Americans. Family dynamics (typically no father in the home); young and/or uneducated parents; economics (many are poor); the child is distracted b/c there is abuse, no food in the home, physical conditions of the home, etc…

  2. Ugh… he lost me when he did the interracial relationship comparison. Come on now… all black men and women don’t feel that way.. Way to derail a good and important topic, Nick.

  3. The way the school system is now, I just want good teachers, period. My son’s last teacher was awesome! She connected with the kids, got out on the soccer field with them and got them really exited about learning. Those are the traits of a great teacher.

    That being said, I agree that for black students, a black teacher with the same kind of passion can make a huge difference in their educational experience.

  4. My children have a great, black teacher who helps them to view themselves and the world differently, and to believe in their abilities: me, their mother. I understand that homeschooling (we unschool) isn’t possible for everyone but for many it is, and those families should take advantage of it if they are truly unhappy with the state of their school district. I wish more working families could work together to help each other educated their children at home.

  5. Jacqueline Lewis

    From the 1st-4th grade my teachers in NY were Phillipine, and they were excellent teachers and my sister and I were the better for it. By the time we got into the 5th grade my parents fought for us to go to schools outside our zone. That was our first opportunity to experience two black teachers, and I will say they were extroadinary. My husband and I have not found good education in the state we reside in, so we’ve sacrificed our income to homeschool our two children. Every parent should have this opportunity. Homeschooling isn’t just important academically, but also the morals, and character. I just read today a school was teaching sex education (oral sex) to 11 year-old. I can decide what and how this sensitive and important subject is introduced to my children, not some school or principal. Parents need good teachers, but as we go along, children are not getting educated, these same uneducated children become adults and our teaching the next generation.

  6. Though I heard some “personals” of the writer in article, the point of cultural relevance is WHAT MATTERS HERE. For example, when one assesses the disparity in student racial makeups within Special Education classes, the numbers are ALWAYS overwhelmingly Minorities especially Black Boys. Such Special Ed labelling percentages I personally believe could/would change if more Minority Male teachers were involved. With that said, we must also STOP attacking teacher profession and increase its pay and prestigue if we are to ever start attracting more Minority Male teachers; today I am encouraged by the growing numbers of Collegiate Scholarship programs designed to attract more Minority interests in teaching and hope that it increases and that more Black Men consider professions in Teaching because unless WE start participating more, then I just can’t see how MORE fair & equitable education will happen in Urban Public Schools and particularly in Black Neighborhoods.

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