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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Black teacher raises black kids’ success odds

Sharif El-Mekki, a veteran educator in Philadelphia, is trying to recruit black men to teaching.

Black students are more likely to complete high school and consider college if they have at least one black teacher in elementary school, according to a study from the IZA Institute of Labor Economics. For persistently low-income black boys, the risk of dropping out decreased by 39 percent.

Researchers studied students in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Expectations are powerful, said Nicholas Papageorge, a Johns Hopkins economist who co-authored the report.

“Many of these kids can’t imagine being an educated person and perhaps that’s because they’ve never seen one that looks like them. Then, they get to spend a whole year with one. This one black teacher can change a student’s entire future outlook.” In a study published last year, Papageorge and co-authors found that a race played a big part in how teachers judged a student’s abilities. When a black teacher and a white teacher looked at the same black student, the white teacher was about 40 percent less likely to predict the student would finish high school.

In Philadelphia, Sharif El-Mekki is trying to recruit black men to teaching, reports Kristen A. Graham on

(He) vividly recalls every black male teacher who ever taught him: two in elementary school, two in high school. “They were transformative figures in my life,” said El-Mekki, a veteran Philadelphia educator.

Now principal of of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker, El-Mekki began working as a counselor after he was shot by an angry kid during a pickup football game. He went through an alternate route to teacher certification and worked in district middle schools as a teacher and administrator before moving to Mastery.

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