Rodney Robinson was named teacher of the year for 2019 by the Council of Chief State School Officers. / Photo courtesy of Richmond Public Schools

For the first time in more than 25 years, a black man was awarded National Teacher of the Year, according to Education Week.

Rodney Robinson, who teaches social studies and history at a juvenile jail in Richmond, Virginia, created a curriculum that is extremely relevant to his students. He teaches, among other things, the history of prisons, he told NPR.

From Ed Week:

“Throughout my schooling, I only had one black male teacher the entire time,” Robinson said last week. This teacher led band class, which Robinson took from 5th to 12th grade. Having a black teacher was one of the main reasons he stuck with the class for so many years. “It meant so much to see someone like me in the classroom,” he said.

National disparities in teacher demographics are bad. Only 50 percent of students nationwide are white, but 80 percent of teachers identify themselves as Caucasian. In San Diego, the figures aren’t good either.

Source: California Department of Education and 2018 Census estimates

The stakes are high for minority children when it comes to diversifying the workforce. Research shows minority students have higher test scores, are more likely to graduate high school and more likely to do well in college when they have access to teachers who look like them. Teachers of color are also better at having high expectations, developing trust and confronting issues of racism with minority students, according to another study.

Nationally, teachers of color are growing as a percentage of the workforce. But that is mostly due to growth in the percentage of Latino teachers. The percentage of black and Native American teachers is shrinking. (Interesting fact: After Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950s, roughly 38,000 black educators lost their jobs during integration.)

A recently announced program at National University – which has the most students in California working toward a teaching credential – would help recruit students from communities of color to help address the disparities in teacher demographics. The program started with Gompers Preparatory Academy and is now being expanded to San Diego Unified and local community colleges.

What Oakland Teaches About California’s Slow-Moving School Budget Crisis

It cannot be repeated often enough that California schools are in the midst of a slow-moving budget crisis.

Rising pension and special education costs, combined with declining enrollment, are pinching school districts for cash, even as the Legislature has increased funding in recent years.

Meanwhile teachers in several school districts, including Oakland, have gone on strike in recent months, seeking higher pay and smaller class sizes. As I’ve noted before, the strikes are somewhat misplaced. The school districts teachers are striking against have little power to raise taxes in a way that pays for teacher salaries. (They can put a parcel tax on the ballot, but it must be approved by 66.6 percent of voters.) Power to increase spending rests with Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature.

Striking against a local school district for more money, instead of the state, is like going to the DMV to demand your tax refund.

Nowhere exemplifies this better than Oakland. A weeklong teacher strike in February lead to an 11 percent raise. But just days after the raise was approved, Oakland Unified School District board members had to make roughly $20 million in cuts to pay for them, as well as dig the district out of a budget hole. Those cuts, most notably, hit the district’s restorative justice program and trimmed 100 jobs.

Now, the raises may lead to $2 million more in cuts, according to EdSource. In the past, Oakland has given “me too” raises to all its other bargaining groups, once one group secures a raise. But new figures show the district will have to cut $2 million elsewhere, if it decides to raise pay across the board.

That said, teachers wanting raises is understandable. In coastal areas of California, rising rents are greatly outpacing teacher pay, especially for early career teachers. In an excellent series on the shortage of affordable teacher housing, EdSource documented the story of an award-winning East Bay teacher who took a job in Las Vegas so she wouldn’t have to keep living with roommates.

Sixty percent of the public supports teachers striking for higher pay, according to a recent survey. But when strikes land on the doorstep of local school boards instead of the state Legislature, it’s important to remember the money for well-deserved raises often comes out of other programs that can help student achievement.

What I’m Reading

What We’re Writing

  • San Diego Unified was investigated by a federal agency for its difficulties addressing Muslim bullying.
  • Board Trustee Kevin Beiser, who was accused by four men of sexual harassment and assault and has faced countless calls to resign from the school board, returned to his seat at a recent board meeting. He spoke only once and did not address the accusations.
  • San Diego Unified has faced much criticism for its citywide general elections, which opponents say favor candidates with the most money. If the City Council doesn’t fix San Diego Unified’s election structure, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber says the state will.
  • A school volunteer sent an email detailing his suspicions of an inappropriate relationship between a student and an ROTC teacher in Sweetwater Union High School District. The people who received the email say they didn’t act because it went to their spam folder.
  • The people who received that email are “mandated reporters,” meaning they, like most school workers, are legally required to report suspected child abuse. But that doesn’t always happen. And in most cases, mandated reporters are never prosecuted for failing to act.

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at or 619-693-6249.

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