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MLK Day Post: A Rooney Rule for Public Education?

In 2003, the National Football League instituted the Rooney Rule which dictates that all professional football teams must interview at least one minority candidate for an open head coaching position or any open senior football operations position.  The rule came about because Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, lamented the lack of minority head coaches throughout the history of the league.

There has been much discussion about the efficacy of the rule, especially lately.  And, there’s no way to attribute causality, but currently, 6 of the 32 teams have African-American head coaches (and, as of the writing of this post) there are rumors that Leslie Frazier may become the head coach of the Buffalo Bills).  That’s progress, but there is still disproportionality in a league where a little more than 3/4 of the players are African-American.

In education, as of 2007, approximately 45% of all public school students were categorized as a race other than Caucasian (SOURCE). As of 2007-08, approximately 16.9% of all public school teachers were categorized as a race other than Caucasian (SOURCE). Furthermore, as of that same year, 19.1% of all public school principals were categorized as a race other than Caucasian (SOURCE). Looking specifically at African-American students and educators, 15.3% of the students are African-American, 7% of the teachers are African-American and 9.6% of the principals are African-American.  We’re quickly approaching a day when the public schools in the United States serve more minority students than Caucasian students.  Yet, we’re nowhere near that with respect to teachers and especially leaders.

At the highest levels of school leadership, the numbers are even more disproportionate.  Reliable statistics on the superintendency are even harder to come by, but one estimate holds that 2% of all superintendents in the United States are of African descent.  Another estimate puts that at 5%.

I don’t want to go too much further here as my intent is to be mostly descriptive so as to raise questions.  I will, though, gladly point you to work done by colleagues of mine.  The paper to which I link here is based on a series of studies including the dissertation by the lead author.  Drs. Jackson and Shakeshaft reach some interesting conclusions, including discrediting the myth that there are too few African-American candidates in the pool or pipeline for superintendent positions.  I also note the conclusions about African-American superintendents in predominantly Caucasian districts. Their conclusion is essentially that African-Americans, especially males, need not apply. How many of YOU know an African-American superintendent leading a school system that serves mostly Caucasian students?

I urge you to read the Jackson/Shakeshaft paper, and even the small body of literature to which they offer citations.

So, what do you think? Do we need a Rooney Rule in public education?

[NOTE: don't bother with any legal mumbo jumbo about the current jurisprudence on affirmative action and/or equal protection. I know where we stand there. I'm just raising some issues here...I think.]

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5 Responses to “MLK Day Post: A Rooney Rule for Public Education?”

  1. I wish we would get more (any) minority candidates for teacher and administrator positions, but from what we have been told, we can’t compete with the large urban district next door to us with more resources to pay better. We are approximately 60% Hispanic, 14% African American, and the rest Caucasian but our staff is approximately 90% Caucasian. We’ve reached out whenever we’ve had vacancies but no applicants. We are too small of a district to go out on big recruiting forays and our turnover rate is relatively low as a result of our size, making it hard to expect vacancies each year. It’s kind of a pickle and I’m open to suggestions (that don’t break our bank).

  2. Thank you for explaining the “rooney rule”. I had heard it thrown around with the hiring of the newest Seattle Seahawks coach and was unsure if it meant a certain number of eligible candidates or something else.

    Employing the Rooney Rule in education I’m not sure will work. The majority perception of affirmative action makes so many believe that the only reason it’s in effect is to allow less competent minority individuals have a job and negate a more competent individual’s chance at that same job. I really don’t think that perception will change with the “rooney rule”. Administrators will have to defend their decisions even more than they already do, and I think it will be more of a hassle than an improvement.

    I think it’s more important to continue to change the perception of competence being applicable to more people than just the majority race, which as you mention isn’t so much a majority anymore.

  3. Russ Goerend says:

    Personally, I don’t know any African-American superintendents.

    In theory, I do like the rule. I just don’t know how well the theory is translating into practice.

    The problem as you mentioned, is the efficacy — the buzz word I’m hearing lately is “fidelity.” So much of the hiring in professional (and collegiate sports) happens behind closed doors that much of the process that does happen in public is just for show.

    I student taught in a middle school that was upwards of 75% African-American. While I was there, we had an African-American principal. There was a connection between him and the students that I didn’t have.

  4. Dave Meister says:

    We rarely get applications from minority candidates in our district. We are a predominately white community that would benefit from having role models from minority groups. Our community has little to offer to attract new candidates no matter the race. We in education need to do a better job of recruiting top candidates, from all races, into the profession and showing them the opportunities that exist. The existence of a “Rooney” type rule would not be of much help in our situation simply because there is not a large, willing pool of minority candidates to fill positions in our community. How do we entice those type of candidates to apply? The dream of Dr. King is still far from realized in my opinion simply because we have to give these types of questions consideration. We have come a long way, but we still have a lot to overcome to the point where race becomes a non-factor in opportunities available to all in our society.

  5. I write to you as a member of a minority group, actually a double minority since I am also a woman. I think we need to change America’s mindset…and we need to change our nomenclature…we need to stop categorizing people as members of the minority race and the majority race…We need to stop asking people to check off little boxes identifying what color, race or creed they are and then using the answers to generalize and stereotype. Does the majority who design these demeaning demographic devices have a different set of expectations depending on the box I check? We have come a long way, but we need to go further and stop being so afraid of one another! We need to begin thinking about people as members of the human race. The word minority connotes powerlessness and disenfranchisement because minority means there are fewer in number to voice an opinion or exercise change.

    Why is it necessary to continue to identify people as being a member of the powerful or the powerless?

    Why must our educational research be driven by proving how poor and how uneducated minority groups are compared to the majority, yet we do nothing to bridge the achievement gap? Why do we lower our expectations for minority groups, and surmise that minorities can only relate to other minorities? Why do we assume that most minorities are poor while certain minorities are geniuses? Why can’t we raise the standards for those who are poor and learn from the habits of those geniuses?

    Any human being who lives in poverty will not be able to achieve academically, or prosper in other aspects of life for that matter. And guess what, lately we have a lot of poor folks in America who aren’t minorities! Breaking the cycle of poverty requires tenacity, and ambition…a strong work ethic and passion. Talent and ability naturally complement this equation. Throughout our country’s history, many minorities have embodied these traits while others have not; some minorities flourish while others do not, so prosperity or poverty among minority groups in the U.S. requires a complex anthropological examination of so many factors and variables rather than resorting to generalizations and stereotypes that one particular minority group or all minorities share a common idiosyncrasy of being either geniuses or lazy, poor, uneducated seekers of salvation from the great white hope of the majority.

    Unfortunately, in my experience and observations, so many members of the majority have this opinion of minorities. I am a minority although I was born in this country. My parents were immigrants, like the parents of so many others who now makeup the majority. I am a first generation American and proud of it. I am white yet the so-called majority does not recognize my shade of Caucasian. I speak and write English perfectly, in my opinion, yet the majority is adept at detecting minute deviations in my standard American English intonation, which the majority uses to categorize me as a minority. At times, I pass as a member of the majority, or at least I think I do, but sometimes the majority can’t quite pigeonhole me into one of their categories. I find it perturbs them when they can’t figure out what I am. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to conceal my true heritage, but sooner or later, I cannot suppress who I am, and I face the backlash of ignorance, and both the subtleties and the blatancy of racism and discrimination. The majority puts up this wall afraid to learn about my culture, my customs, my second language; they fail to realize I am an American like them, and they refuse to accept our similarities because they are blinded with the fear that we may be different, and something different may require them to change or alter their life. It won’t, but they don’t know that. Most people seek consistency and uniformity. Our American culture perpetuates this uniformity through intolerance…we’ve come a long way but racism in the hearts and minds of many who belong to the majority is alive and well.

    Why must we be so closed minded in perpetuating this notion that minorities relate better to those who share their race, color or creed?

    We are all human…unless we have personality differences preventing us from getting along, we should be able to relate to one another regardless of our race, color or creed because we share common human experiences: we all experience joy and pain. In the end we all want the same things: love and acceptance. I read one of the comments regarding how students at a predominantly black school related better to a black principal. This is exactly the type of mentality we need to eradicate. It’s that mentality perpetuating the idea that we cannot possibly understand each other if we have different color skin or are of a different race or religion. There are many factors, which may prevent us from being able to relate, but it is a travesty when people fail to make a connection because one person’s skin color is black and another’s is white…or because someone is a Jew and another is a Muslim. Our schools fail to educate our children about tolerance for our differences; we fail to teach children that there are thriving cultures and languages outside of the United States. We encourage racism and denigrate multiculturalism in our schools by limiting the exposure our students receive to other cultures. So many of our own teachers are ignorant to the richness of the cultures of so many of our minorities.

    Why do we have few minorities in education? I will give you three main reasons why. First of all, successful minorities seek better paying jobs. Teaching offers no monetary incentive that is why so many minorities pursue careers in medicine, business, technology, and law. Some minorities immigrate to the U.S. to pursue higher education and eventually stable employment with greater financial compensation and opportunities for growth. A teacher’s salary, and the climate of public education do not appeal to a minority seeking professional growth or opportunities to make money. Our educational system also conflicts with the tenets so many minorities believe about the value of an education and the status teachers deserve. The second reason why many minorities do not enter the profession or leave the profession involves racism and discrimination, something I experienced first hand as a teacher who happens to be a minority. Being the only minority in a school or even in a school district can be quite intimidating and dispiriting. I felt many of my colleagues were either afraid to get to know me, or apathetic about learning about another person’s culture. Not that I walked around pushing my culture on anyone, quite the opposite was true. No one was ever blatantly impolite, but there were subtle signs of a lack of acceptance. Few ever asked me where I was from, but it was an unspoken fact that I was not a native. I felt isolated from my peers no matter how hard I tried to gain their acceptance. My administrators were more blatant in their racism…they felt threatened by my expertise. I am not sure if this was racism or just plain insecurity on their part. But I wondered if my being a minority played any part in their aversion for me. There was another minority teacher at my school who in my observation of events, I felt had it much worse than me. She was a foreign exchange teacher from China, working in my district with the goal of teaching Chinese to our native English speaking population. She spoke broken English so had difficulty carrying on a conversation. I made an effort to speak with her and get to know her. We conversed as best we could on several occasions. On other occasions I witnessed the same unfriendly attitude toward her that many of my colleagues displayed toward me. I realized I was not alone. No one bothered to get to know her as a person, but worse than that, no one bothered to create opportunities for her to share her culture with the entire faculty and most importantly with the student body. Instead, people made fun of the way she spoke English.

    The third reason there are few minorities in education is, in my opinion, a controversial attitude. I will not be politically correct…it’s fear! Fear from the majority that the minorities will somehow take over the country. This “there goes the neighborhood attitude” prevent the majority from finding competent minority candidates. Employers see a name, or a color or even a religion, and it frightens them. Sometimes, minorities prove they are smarter, faster and more efficient at getting the job done…this threatens the majority. ( In many cases, and in my experience working with other minorities, minorities who have a post graduate education are better prepared because the education they earned in their native countries was far superior to the education they might have acquired in the U.S.) “It’s not easy being green” in both senses of the word, and it’s even more difficult for people to recognize their weaknesses and learn from each other. The majority needs to realize minorities “come in peace” and the majority needs to remember that hundreds of years ago, they were a minority, escaping to this country in search of religious or political tolerance. But we are imperfect beings, and we forget, and we fear what we do not know. The changing face of the United States is frightening to many who belong to the majority. If they are competent leaders, minorities as superintendents, principals or teachers will know how to build relationships with both the majority and the minority. I am not being facetious when I say if Oprah can gain the following of the majority, any talented leader can do the same. Obama had the charisma as well, but I won’t go further with that one, for that’s too long and complex of an issue to discuss why some of the majority disguise their racism behind their so-called partisanship.

    But, I say don’t blame “the man”…the minorities have no one to blame, but themselves for not speaking against the social injustices they endure. This is the greatest country in the world and regardless of racism, with hard work, anyone can achieve success whether you are a member of the minority or the majority.

    The best way to sabotage someone’s future, minority or majority, is by sabotaging their education. Some minorities rise above this while others perpetuate the stereotypes and do nothing to improve their living conditions and have no one to blame but themselves. Public schools across our country with a majority of minority students have the worst teachers and the fewest resources. The elected leaders of these communities, many of them minorities like their constituents, fail to defend their rights for a quality education. These leaders have other agendas and could careless about the plight of minorities, just like those some members of the majority. However, thank goodness for those members of the majority who have common sense, compassion and empathy to stand up for the human rights of both the majority and the minority.

    So I say to those of the majority who care about human rights, that the Rooney Rule although well intentioned, is not a good idea for education. It will not work to recruit more minorities. At least it won’t work for me. I want to be hired based on my merits, not to meet a quota…I don’t want others to resent me, which was a natural by product of affirmative action…I want to be respected as a human being …I want to stop checking off the little box identifying me as powerless. Next time I face one of those so called demeaning demographic data collecting devices I will add a write in category and print in big bold letters: I am HUMAN!

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