African-American Male Principals and Educators


While discussing the phenomenon relative to the number of African-American male educators and principals working in K-12 public schools in the United States, it is important to note that the total number of such personnel is extraordinarily low and trending downward to address the growing instructional and disciplinary needs of African-American male students (Yates et al., 2015). This shortage and problem are documented, evidenced, and observed with an even sharper focus on Title I elementary schools in many Southern states like Georgia. It is important to review the most recent literature on the discussed topic to reveal factors that can significantly influence the numbers of African-American male educators and principals in K-12 public schools located in the Southern states, their leadership, and instructional practices, as well as the likelihood that improvements in academic achievements and success of African-American male elementary students will actually manifest themselves.

Shortage of African-American Male Administrators and Educators in K-12 Public Schools

Previous studies are quite definitive in asserting that increasing the numbers of African-American males in K-12 public schools as instructional leaders could be the best approach to improving test scores, attendance, graduation rates, and discipline levels with respect to African-American male learners (Griffin & Tackie, 2017; Ross et al., 2016). Still, in spite of researchers’ and policymakers’ interest in attracting more African-American male administrators and educators to K-12 public schools, it is possible to speak about a considerable shortage of male representatives of minority groups performing as teachers, administrators, or superintendents in elementary schools. According to Yates et al. (2015), “while over 44% of all students in America are a minority, only 12-14% of teachers are minorities and less than 2% are African American males” (p. 11). Administrators in public elementary schools experience many problems while recruiting and then retaining African-American male educators, “which explains the paucity of Black male teachers who are early childhood educators” (Bryan & Milton Williams, 2017, p. 209). Thus, the existing literature on the employment of African-American male educators in schools proves the presence of a significant shortage, and researchers discuss this phenomenon with reference to its causes and expected consequences.

Possible causes of currently observed shortages of African-American male educators and administrators are discussed in many studies. According to Coles-Ritchie and Smith (2017), African-American educators often report racism and prejudice as a barrier to developing their teaching career. These researchers discussed this controversial issue from the perspective of the “race talk” in an educational environment and teachers’ attempts to avoid such open discussions because of their personal traumas among other factors (Coles-Ritchie & Smith, 2017). As it is noted by White (2016), the issue of racism in an educational context cannot be addressed effectively even through the development of diversity programs and initiatives. Critical Race Theory is selected by many researchers interested in discussing the concept of race in the sphere of education because this theoretical model allows for explaining the nature and causes of problems experienced by minority teachers and students during their teaching or learning activities in diverse educational settings (Coles-Ritchie & Smith, 2017; Ross et al., 2016). From this perspective, one of the causes of shortages of African-American male educators is the problem of racism and educators’ experiences in educational institutions and workplaces.

Although the purpose of administrators in K-12 public schools is to hire more African-American male educators, men of color often do not choose a career in the field of education because of the challenges they face in colleges and in similarly stressful workplaces (Yates et al., 2015). Researchers paid attention to the fact that the key cause of the observed shortage is the fact that men traditionally do not choose careers in the sphere of the elementary and secondary education (Bryan & Milton Williams, 2017; Griffin & Tackie, 2017; Pabon, 2016). African-American males follow the same reasoning while avoiding the development of a career in the sphere of education. In addition, the shortage of African-American teachers in U.S. schools is a tendency based on the history of segregation and anti-segregation activities in U.S. society (Bryan & Milton Williams, 2017; Ross et al., 2016). Thus, the recent studies on the topic demonstrate that even if African-American males want to work as educators, they can face many challenges and barriers on their career path, and this aspect can significantly influence their decision to work as a teacher.

Reasons for choosing or not choosing a career in the field of education are described by many researchers in their studies. One of the prevalent opinions is that the decision of African-American males regarding their further education and career as teachers often depends on “the inability to persevere when faced with adversity” (Yates et al., 2015, p. 12). Dinkins and Thomas (2016) also noted that in Title I elementary schools or urban schools for low-income families, working conditions and the atmosphere are usually not discussed by male educators as contributing to their career progress. As a result, African-American male educators are among those teachers who choose to leave schools often than females or representatives of other races and ethnicities, and findings of researchers support this point of view.

Still, the need for African-American teachers is accentuated by many recent studies and research, especially while focusing on the situation in the Southern states (Bristol, 2015; Preston, 2016; Vilson, 2015). The reason for this tendency is the necessity of providing positive role models for young African-American males who study at school and often act out when experiencing a crisis or tumult (Bristol, 2015; Pabon, 2016; Scott, 2016). Thus, in her qualitative study based on interviews with African-American male teachers, Pabon (2016) stated that “by standing in for absentee Black fathers and acting as exemplars of Black manhood, Black male youth will adopt the resilience, grit, and determination to achieve in school” (p. 916). As a result of completing his study, Brooms (2017) also found that African-American male students are inclined to conceptualize male teachers of the same race as “other fathers,” and they prefer to work with such teachers. Furthermore, African-American male teachers help students to receive insider perspectives and develop as an African-American man in American society. Thus, modern researchers agree that the shortage of African-American male teachers and principals in elementary schools does not contribute to supporting male students of color in educational environments.

The shortage of African-American administrators and educators in K-12 public schools and Title I elementary schools is viewed by researchers and experts as a logical outcome of segregation policies that were typical of the American society during a long period of time (Coles-Ritchie & Smith, 2017; Yates et al., 2015). Still, researchers also conclude that it is important to recruit more African-American male educators in public schools in the United States because of their orientation to the development of African-American communities in the country and their understanding of social, cultural, and racial identities, which is important in order to contribute to the development of a younger generation of African-American males (Brooms, 2017; Griffin & Tackie, 2017; Pabon, 2016). The currently observed shortage can have negative impacts on the development of the next generation of African-American male students who have low-income status or come from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds (Dinkins & Thomas, 2016; Ross et al., 2016). From this perspective, the consensus of the reviewed literature is that recruitment and retention of African-American male administrators and educators remains a challenge for the K-12 public school system in the United States due to numerous factors.

Academic Achievements of African-American Male Elementary School Students

The shortage of African-American male teachers and principals is discussed by researchers as one of the reasons for the low academic achievements of African-American male students (Khalifa, Gooden, & Davis, 2016; Yates et al., 2015). Furthermore, studies indicate that the number of African-American students who participate in programs for talented children is comparably low (C. Wilson, 2016). African-American males, who study in the third and fourth grades, also demonstrate lower examination results than representatives of other demographic groups in U.S. states (Khalifa et al., 2016, Ross et al., 2016). There are also problems with the progressive development of children’s literacy and mathematics skills that affect their academic performance (C. Wilson, 2016). Furthermore, the problem is also in educators’ possible expectations regarding African-American students’ achievements (Bristol, 2015). The gap in academic achievement for marginalized and minority groups in contrast to high-income and privileged groups exists, and it is widely discussed in the literature (Schenke, Nguyen, Watts, Sarama, & Clements, 2017). Researchers agree that the academic achievements of African-American students, with the focus on male students, are rather low in comparison to other races, and the reason can be in different factors, including shortages of African-American male teachers and perceptions or views of non-African-American teachers.

Researchers state that teachers’ attitudes toward students and their expectations regarding achievements can influence real academic results of children. Thus, many teachers can have some biases regarding African-American students’ abilities, and this aspect can influence their relationships, discipline, and grades (Coles-Ritchie & Smith, 2017; Vilson, 2015; Yates et al., 2015). Boston and Warren (2017) found that, if teachers have some prejudice in relation to their students that is influenced by racial stereotypes, they cannot understand the specific needs of African-American male students, they do not believe in their academic progress, and they have limited expectations regarding students’ achievements. As a result, students have no motivation to study better (Griffin & Tackie, 2017; Howard, Douglas, & Warren, 2016). This problem can be addressed when students and teachers belong to the same race and gender because of the necessity of overcoming racial and gender prejudice (Schenke et al., 2017; Yates et al., 2015). Therefore, the questions of race and gender are important to be discussed in the context of selecting strategies to improve the achievements of African-American male elementary school students.

In their qualitative study, Hambacher, Acosta, Bondy, and Ross (2016) introduced the concept of a “warm demander” as a characteristic of a teacher who can motivate students and influence their achievements through accepting their values and understanding their motives. When teachers act as warm demanders, there are more opportunities than African-American students to study in a positive atmosphere, and their academic achievements can improve. In the context of educating African-American male students, this approach can mean attracting more male teachers of color who can serve as warm demanders for their students. Furthermore, according to Lindsay and Hart (2017), a teacher’s race can play a key role in building strong relationships with students and influencing their learning. This aspect leads researchers to further inquiry as to how African-American male administrators and teachers perceive their experiences relative to their own expectations for professional success and satisfaction.

Although many educators are inclined to state that the achievements of students are determined by the racial factor, there are also many other causes and aspects that can influence the phenomenon. According to Lancellot (2016) and C. Wilson (2016), achievements of African-American male students at all levels are often associated with not only race but also income, as it is viewed by both educators and researchers. In their study, Howard et al. (2016) noted that those African-American male students who study in urban schools usually have lower incomes than their white peers, and this racial and socioeconomic status can influence these students’ academic achievements because of their limited opportunities to develop their intellectual potential. The problem is that white educators or principals often cannot motivate these students to achieve higher results because they belong to different cultural and social backgrounds. Therefore, one more important factor discussed by investigators as influencing the academic achievements of students is their feeling of belongingness (Yates et al., 2015). According to Boston and Warren (2017), it is very important for African-American students to feel connected to their community to be able to demonstrate higher academic achievements. Thus, any cultural divide between teachers and African-American male children can cause misunderstandings that affect the achievements of students.

As a result, in their recent studies, researchers drew conclusions that the involvement of more African-American teachers and principals in the field of education can contribute to creating a positive environment for young students’ development and learning. In this context, more attention should be paid to attracting African-American men to positions of teachers because of their positive impact on the achievements of male students who have problems with their study (Bristol, 2015; Bryan & Milton Williams, 2017; Dumas & Nelson, 2016). Thus, it is possible to expect that the increased feeling of belongingness and mutual understanding with an educator can lead to improving the academic achievements of African-American male students who need additional support in public schools of the United States. Researchers note that specific efforts that can improve academic achievements and success of African-American male students should include the provision of culturally relevant teaching, support, and the provision of emotional and practical assistance (Dumas & Nelson, 2016; Sandilos, Rimm‐Kaufman, & Cohen, 2017; Schenke et al., 2017). From this perspective, specific referents to the cultural background and values are important in order to guarantee students’ success in their study, and the realization of these approaches is possible only if the shortage of African-American male educators and administrators in K-12 schools is addressed.

It is important to state that researchers demonstrate the consensus regarding the ways to improve the academic achievements of African-American students who are currently viewed as having lower grades and results in comparison to representatives of other races and ethnicities. Therefore, to improve the academic achievements of African-American male students, researchers propose to address the shortage and underperformance of African-American male teachers and superintendents in public schools of the country (Dumas & Nelson, 2016; Scott & Rodriguez, 2015). Researchers agree that currently observed gaps in academic achievements of African-American male students can be a result of cooperating with teachers who do not understand their culture, have prejudiced views, and can be oriented to supporting privileged students (Dixson, Roberson, & Worrell, 2017; Dumas & Nelson, 2016). As a result, such students require not only culturally relevant teaching but also support and warm demands in order to demonstrate better results. From this point, researchers tend to associate the potential academic progress of African-American male students in public schools with overcoming shortages of African-American male educators in these educational environments.

The success of African-American Male Administrators and Educators in K-12 Public Schools

The current literature on the topic provides a few examples of successful teachers and principals among those men of color who work in K-12 public schools (Bonastia, 2016). The reason is that only a few educators and principals can be successfully retained in challenging environments of urban public schools. According to Griffin and Tackie (2017), those African-American teachers who choose to develop their careers in public schools demonstrate a unique interest in students’ life and progress, and they tend to expand their roles of instructors to the roles of advocates and mentors. Graves et al. (2017) noted in their study that such educators are inclined to follow a certain mission and support specific visions and ideas regarding the education of minority students. However, some researchers also note that popularized narratives, in which African-American male teachers are referred to as role models, can be both exaggerated and limited in their abilities to describe actual roles of African-American male educators in the sphere of education (Bonastia, 2016; Sato & Hodge, 2017; Schenke et al., 2017; Thomas & Warren, 2017). From this point, different factors can influence the success of African-American male educators and administrators in K-12 schools, and some of these factors are described in the literature in detail.

In the context of their work in Title I elementary schools in the United States, African-American male leaders and educators often face such challenges as the work with disadvantaged students, behavioral problems, biases, and even violence (Bonastia, 2016; Lindsay & Hart, 2017). While following researchers, it is important to note that these leaders’ success depends on their ability to adapt to the situation, change it, and choose appropriate strategies to use in a problematic context (Bonastia, 2016; Yates et al., 2015). Thus, according to Yates et al. (2015), the key to success is often in African-Americans’ resilience as “the ability to overcome adversity” (p. 12). The concept of resilience is discussed by many researchers in their works as it is important to explain why some principals and educators succeed when working in Title I elementary schools or urban schools, and other leaders and teachers do not demonstrate high results and choose to leave their positions (Bonastia, 2016; Bryan & Milton Williams, 2017; Roksa & Whitley, 2017; Thomas & Warren, 2017). Resilience is associated with individuals’ adaptation to environments that are characterized by negative factors, including an atmosphere, working conditions, and colleagues’ attitudes (Yates et al., 2015). In recent literature, the topic of African-American male teachers’ resilience is actively discussed as a trigger for their further success.

However, even if African-American male teachers focus on their mission, want to work in a public school, and try to serve the interests of minority students, they can be treated inequitably in contrast to other teachers who are mainly white or Hispanic females (Bonastia, 2016; Sato & Hodge, 2017). Providing such conclusions, researchers also focus on many challenges that influence the success of African-American male educators and administrators in Title I elementary schools. According to Griffin and Tackie (2017), when facing discrimination, receiving no support, and experiencing problems in working with problematic students, minority teachers choose to quit jobs. The problem is that African-American teachers often “feel hindered professionally,” “their voices [are] stifled in staff meetings,” and they are “pigeonholed by colleagues, parents, and administrators, pressured to take on the same few teaching assignments and leadership roles over and over again” (Griffin & Tackie, 2017, pp. 39-40). As a result, to achieve success while working in Title I elementary schools, administrators and educators of color are expected to demonstrate developed leadership skills to overcome barriers discussed in the literature on the problem.

The most successful African-American male educational leaders follow strategies and approaches that have not been studied actively because of challenges associated with the work in these environments (Lancellot, 2016). However, some recent studies present the discussion of particular leadership and instructional strategies selected by African-American male educators to work with African-American students. According to those studies’ results, the success depends on respecting students’ background (Lancellot, 2016), providing the necessary personalized assistance (Preston, 2016), promoting reciprocity (Ross et al., 2016; Sato & Hodge, 2017; Vilson, 2015), and focusing on critical care strategies (C. Wilson, 2016). These approaches are viewed by researchers as important to overcome racism and promote the resilience of African-American administrators and educators in public schools.

Thus, in their studies, researchers are inclined to conclude that the success of African-American male administrators, principals, and educators is often the result of their resilience. Furthermore, effective outcomes in their career and work with children of color are also results of applying specific practices associated with social-emotional learning. As it is noted by Graves et al. (2017), almost all examples of successful leaders and teachers of color in public schools tend to demonstrate their interest in providing the social and emotional support for learners in order to promote the development of these spheres of a child’s personality. Researchers discuss this approach as the practice of developing a child and his or her skills as a whole, and in the education of minority students, this strategy is also actively used because these children often need more support than their peers (Lancellot, 2016; Roksa & Whitley, 2017; Yates et al., 2015). Therefore, authors of the discussed studies accentuate significant contributions of African-American educators in the intellectual development of those male children of color who study in K-12 public schools.

After reviewing the studies on the success of African-American male educators and principals in K-12 public schools, it is possible to state that researchers agree on the idea of increasing the number of teachers of color in these schools because their socio-cultural experiences are important for students whom they teach (Griffin & Tackie, 2017; Sato & Hodge, 2017; Thomas & Warren, 2017). Furthermore, to be successful, African-American male educators and leaders need to demonstrate resilience as their reaction to challenging environments of Title I elementary schools. In addition, researchers also state that those educators and principals who are focused on overcoming their personal problems with identity, race, and class can also contribute to the development of African-American students because of demonstrating the adaptation strategies (Roksa & Whitley, 2017; Thomas & Warren, 2017; Yates et al., 2015). From this point, success in educational environments is associated with those African-American male educators and principals who can remain in the profession during a long period of time while focusing on resilience and promoting their mission of supporting the African-American community.

Instructional Leadership Practices in Title I Schools in Southern and Other States

In addition to analyzing individual strategies used by African-American administrators and educators in the United States, researchers also pay attention to identifying instructional leadership strategies that are practiced in the Southern states of the country (Lancellot, 2016; Preston, 2016). In order to succeed as principals in Title I elementary schools, administrators need to demonstrate effective leadership skills and motivate teachers working in these schools to achieve higher results. Researchers note that effective principals should set clear goals for their educators, especially African-American male educators, in order to retain teachers in public K-12 schools (Preston, 2016; Thomas & Warren, 2017). Such principals should stimulate teachers to develop expectations in accordance with students’ abilities, not environments (Dumas & Nelson, 2016). Furthermore, effective instructional leadership practices include focusing on the discipline and curriculum with reference to the culture of a school. Hambacher and Bondy (2016) noted that leaders in K-12 schools often face a challenging task of stimulating teachers to avoid ineffective strategies in working with minority students because these strategies are usually based on stereotypes. From this point, researchers agree that principals’ task is to orient teachers in Title I elementary schools to selecting effective strategies of working with students, especially, African-American students.

In the Southern and other states of the United States, where the percentage of African-American students is high, both researchers and educators are focused on developing the idea of a student-oriented education in order to address the needs of minority children. According to Hambacher et al. (2016), teachers working in elementary schools for African Americans succeed when they apply the strategy of “warm demanding” in the context of building trusty relationships with students. As it is discussed in the literature, this approach is also supported by administrators and principals who are not only oriented to attracting African-American male teachers to their staff but who are also focused on promoting the most effective practices of working with students (Hambacher & Bondy, 2016; Preston, 2016; Schenke et al., 2017). Strategies similar to “warm demanding” are appropriate for Title I elementary schools because, using these approaches, teachers address students’ culture, demonstrate respect, avoid stereotyping, and reveal their authority (Dixson et al., 2017; Petchauer, 2016). Therefore, these practices are often mentioned in studies on instructions and strategies for teachers and instructional leadership.

In addition, studies indicate that effective instructional leadership depends on the application of successful instructional approaches by those teachers who work with minority students. In their study, Ross et al. (2016) paid attention to the importance of applying culture-oriented instructional approaches while working with African-American students. Preston (2016) also stated that those teachers who work with African-American students are expected to demonstrate their understanding of environments in which they cooperate with students. African-American students can be viewed as a traditionally marginalized group of children, and this aspect influences the approach that should be applied in order to teach these students (Mahatmya, Lohman, Brown, & Conway-Turner, 2016). As a result, researchers focus on describing different strategies and approaches to help minority students in educational settings.

The importance of the culture-oriented approach to instructional leadership and teaching is also explained with reference to the cultural-ecological theory, according to which experiences of minority students are formed by certain social and institutional factors (Dixson et al., 2017; Mahatmya et al., 2016). Therefore, to decrease negative impacts on minority students, it is necessary to adopt culture-oriented practices promoted by principals in public schools (Griffin & Tackie, 2017; Mahatmya et al., 2016; Sandilos et al., 2017). The accentuated effectiveness of culture-oriented instructions required for minority students is one of the reasons why the shortage of African-American male educators and principals influences the quality of teaching in Title I elementary schools.

The importance of culturally relevant instructional approaches is also supported in many other studies on the topic. The reason is that researchers are inclined to view culture-oriented instructions as the most effective practices to overcome racism in schools, address social and political components in teaching, and refer to students’ needs (Dixson et al., 2017; Petchauer, 2016; Pilonieta, 2017). From this point, the culturally relevant pedagogy and instructional leadership are topics for many studies in the field of elementary education. According to Milner (2017), all practices and approaches applied at school that includes a racial component can be viewed as successful if they are implemented in environments where the proportion of minority students is high. Furthermore, both administrators and educators should pay attention to the fact that African-American students often require unique instructions based on a systematic comprehension strategy (Pilonieta, 2017). As a result, it is possible to state that, while discussing instructional leadership practices, researchers are inclined to refer to the culture-oriented approach to be applied in Title I elementary schools.

It is important to note that instructional leadership practices applied by African-American educators and supported by principals typically include techniques to discuss diversity, demonstrate cultural awareness, and decrease the tension (Hambacher et al., 2016; Jett & Cross, 2016). Among other researchers, Khalifa et al. (2016) also paid attention to the fact that most practices used by African-American male educators are based on the idea of culturally responsive leadership that is mainly followed by principals in their practice. In her turn, K. Wilson (2016) concentrates on the role of transformative leadership in schools where the percentage of African-American students is high in order to accentuate the necessity of changing the approach to working with African-American students while focusing on low expectations. Thus, researchers develop the idea that successful administrators in Title I elementary schools and other K-12 schools where there are many minority students develop their strategies depending on an environment and culture (Khalifa et al., 2016; Preston, 2016). However, they do not refer to socioeconomic status and race as limiting factors, but they tend to respect diversity and culture (Bryan & Milton Williams, 2017; Hambacher & Bondy, 2016). Therefore, the focus on school connectedness is also typical of researchers as an idea that the promotion of a culturally responsive environment positively affects students’ learning and development.

The analysis of the literature on instructional leadership practices applied by principals in Title I elementary schools in the United States indicates researchers’ consensus regarding the topic: principals and administrators in K-12 schools with a high percentage of minority students succeed when their specific instructional leadership strategies are in line with culture-oriented practices of educators (Bryan & Milton Williams, 2017; Hambacher et al., 2016; Khalifa et al., 2016). Thus, the focus on creating a culturally responsive environment in these schools with the help of transformational leadership techniques allows for supporting diverse students and addressing their needs (Hambacher & Bondy, 2016; Hambacher et al., 2016; Milner, 2017). Conclusions in many studies on this problem demonstrate researchers’ positive opinions regarding the effectiveness of a range of culture-based techniques and strategies to support African-American students. Therefore, as it was stated previously, African-American teachers are viewed as most appropriate educators to work with representatives of their cultural and ethnic group.

Principals’ or Educators’ Cultural Competency as an Indicator of Instructional Effectiveness and Institutional Success (Title I Schools)

In their studies, proponents of the idea that more African-American male teachers should be invited to work in Title I elementary schools concentrate on the aspect of cultural competency. According to Orazbayeva (2016), in the context of globalization, the cultural competency of principals and educators in schools can serve as an indicator of instructional effectiveness and further educational success. The reason is that educators’ cultural competency is associated with recognizing students’ cultural backgrounds, understanding a specific social context in which they live, and focusing on addressing their cultural expectations and needs (Orazbayeva, 2016). These ideas are also in line with views by Larson (2016) who stated that the developed cultural competency of a teacher can contribute to improving even students’ behaviors in a classroom. Thus, researchers are inclined to discuss the cultural competency of educators from the perspective of its role in understanding students, selecting the most appropriate instructions and techniques, and guaranteeing institutional success.

Some researchers also paid attention to the fact that, although many educators are oriented to applying effective instructional techniques and approaches to their practice, they often fail to demonstrate the understanding of cultural specifics. In the results and conclusions of her qualitative study, Hale (2016) stated that, in spite of the fact that teachers know how to work with diverse students, their effectiveness can be lower if the majority of students represent another culture or race because their learning styles and academic successes depend on a range of factors, including a cultural aspect. Brown and Rodriguez (2017) developed this idea stating that the “lack of cultural competencies, low expectations of and lack of caring for students, and racial/ethnic, linguistic, and class biases are all cited as barriers to the success of teachers in urban schools” (p. 75). From this point, the development of the cultural competency should be a priority for educators if they want to successfully work with minority students.

The literature on the role of the cultural competency for educators also includes the discussion of the problem that not all teachers develop this competency equally. Therefore, educators usually work more effectively with those students who represent their own culture (Brown & Rodriguez, 2017; Buras, 2016). As a result of conducting a literature review on classroom management training for educators working with African-American students, Larson (2016) stated that the effective classroom management is culturally responsive. Referring to their model of culturally supportive professional development for teachers, Hudley and Mallinson (2017) also noted that those educators who have the underdeveloped cultural competency are not inclined to understand and address the needs of those students who come from different cultural and social backgrounds. Furthermore, they can demonstrate misunderstanding of values and biased attitudes. Researchers are inclined to explain these phenomena with reference to Critical Race Theory that demonstrates how representatives of one race or culture perceive representatives of other racial and cultural backgrounds (Hale, 2016; Larson, 2016). Thus, the cultural competency of teachers is important to build positive and cooperative relations with students, establish comfortable and culturally-oriented learning environments, and motivate students to achieve higher results with reference to their background and expectations.

While referring to the experience of teachers who work in urban environments with African-American students, Slaten, Rivera, Shemwell, and Elison (2016) stated that the cultural competency of educators contributes to building effective relationships with students to achieve success in teaching these minority learners. Students’ cultural concerns along with emotional ones need to be addressed by teachers in order to guarantee the building of a comfortable atmosphere for learning and development (Larson, 2016). In urban environments, African-American male children represent a large proportion of the population, but at school, their needs can be non-addressed because of a shortage of African-American teachers. Researchers agree that if there is a lack of African-American male teachers and principals in U.S. schools, representatives of other ethnicities can experience difficulties while working with students in predominantly African-American classes (Brown & Rodriguez, 2017; Henry, 2017). Therefore, the lack of African-American educators and principals in elementary schools can be associated with the problem of the limited cultural competency in those educators who work with students of color.

Researchers agree that African-American teachers usually have power to change the situation in schools where low-income and middle-income children of color study while addressing their needs and overcoming possible racial oppression (Bryson, 2017). Proponents of Critical Race Theory state that the problem is that racial oppression can be typical of any environment where students study, and an educator’s task is to overcome this oppression using the knowledge and the cultural competency (Blaisdell, 2016; Henry, 2017; Monroe, 2016). Thus, it is assumed in the literature that educators of color have developed cultural competencies to work with African Americans. As a result, it is possible to expect that academic performance of students can improve, as well as their motivation to learn and achieve higher results in their study. According to Bryson (2017), “many African-American communities believe in the transformative power of education – beliefs rooted in the importance of schooling and the valuing of education for racial uplift in their communities” (p. 534). Therefore, the cultural competency of teachers is viewed as an indicator of success in this context.

In their studies, researchers have reached the consensus that if educators have the developed cultural competency or they belong to the African-American culture and community, they can provide their students with more personal and professional support as they know how to work with children of color who can have different backgrounds (Brown & Rodriguez, 2017; Bryson, 2017). Researchers also note that, in this context, personal experiences of African-American teachers play a key role as they understand what children of color expect from the study and how they can be motivated from the perspective of their environments and everyday interactions. Therefore, as it is stated in the literature, the development of the cultural competency is important for educators and administrators who plan to work with African-American students.

Equity and Social Justice as Indicators of Institutional Effectiveness and Success

Modern educational environments should guarantee equity and social justice in relation to all students. This idea is supported by researchers who study specifics of teaching children in Title I elementary schools, where the student population belongs to low-income and minority groups (Curran & Kellogg, 2016; Tyler, 2016). According to Tyler (2016), principals of Title I elementary schools should have developed leadership and organizational skills in order to promote equity and justice in these educational settings while addressing racial and gender issues. Curran and Kellogg (2016) also noted in their study that equity promoted in schools in relation to racially or culturally oppressed groups can guarantee the further institutional effectiveness because of the increased performance, but educators and principals are expected to demonstrate unique skills and abilities in managing these problematic educational environments associated with K-12 public schools.

Issues of equity and social justice in Title I elementary schools and other schools with a high proportion of African-American students are usually discussed in the context of race and gender aspects. The literature indicates that Critical Race Theory mostly guides this discussion (Blaisdell, 2016; Bryan & Milton Williams, 2017; Nasir & Vakil, 2017). According to researchers, Critical Race Theory explains what difficulties children of color can experience in Title I elementary schools and other types of schools when educational practices are not inspired by ideals of equality and justice and when oppression, segregation, and discrimination can be observed in hidden and open forms (Blaisdell, 2016; Monroe, 2016). From this point, in the recent literature on equity and social justice in schools, race and gender are viewed with reference to Critical Race Theory and the idea of structural racism.

Although many policies have been recently adopted in the area of the U.S. education to address the needs of children of color in schools, researchers note that African-American students and other minority students remain to be underserved as they can live in separated neighborhoods, their social status is low, and their culture differs from the culture of the majority of students (McGlamery, Franks, & Shillingstad, 2016). According to Blaisdell (2016), educators need to view racism from the perspective of its structure in order to implement effective institutional practices to overcome it and guarantee institutional effectiveness. When a structural aspect of racism is discussed, it is possible to avoid white supremacy at the level of providing instructions and practices, and implementing policies. The problem is that public and educational policies are often adopted to address the needs to white people or they are promoted by white people (Nasir & Vakil, 2017). As a result, even those policies that are oriented to coping with racism in education can accentuate white privilege, and this aspect should be addressed by those principals and educators who represent interests of African Americans.

In the context of policies directed toward providing minority students in U.S. schools, including Title I elementary schools, with more opportunities to obtain knowledge and develop skills, researchers focus on the policy of providing STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education for all African Americans (Nasir & Vakil, 2017; K. Wilson, 2016). While focusing on the importance of teaching science and mathematics to African-American students, K. Wilson (2016) stated that “the culture of mathematics can have tremendous impact on African American males as learners of mathematics since their marginalization in the discipline gives rise to a collective identity for African Americans in mathematics” (p. 164). However, researchers pay attention to the fact that even if modern policies and STEM programs are developed to overcome the problem of injustice and discrimination in schools, there is still a shortage of African-American male teachers who specialize in science and mathematics among other subjects (Bryan & Milton Williams, 2017; Nasir & Vakil, 2017). In spite of the appearance of a range of policies and programs to guarantee the equality in education for African-American students, inequity associated with the STEM education still exists in U.S. schools, and one of the reasons is the lack of African-American male educators in this area.

In the existing literature, equity and social justice as clear indicators of institutional effectiveness and success in schools are also discussed with reference to achievement gaps. According to Duke (2017), the problem is that achievement gaps exist not only between races, but it is also possible to speak about the within-race achievement gap. The reason for its development is the fact that some African-American students receive more support from their teachers, and in some schools, the principles of equity are addressed more obviously than in other educational institutions (Hambacher et al., 2016). Thus, as it is stated in Tyler’s (2016) qualitative study, “the quality and performance of a school’s teachers and principals accounted for nearly 60% of the school’s total impact on student achievement” (p. 2). From this point, the race and culture of educators play a key role in motivating students, and influence their achievements, but the lack of teachers of color in schools does not contribute to improving this situation.

Although Critical Race Theory still remains one of the key theories to discuss equity and justice in the context of education for African-American students, another theory that can be viewed as more appropriate to explain the role of the shortage of African-American male educators and principals in schools is the path-goal theory. According to this theory, a leader in a certain context chooses to follow a specific behavior in order to positively influence subordinates and achieve goals. In educational environments, leaders are educators and subordinates are students (Hambacher et al., 2016; Öqvist & Malmström, 2016). If a teacher’s behavior corresponds with the needs of students and helps to motivate them to achieve higher results in their study, it is possible to speak about success. For minority students, it is important to follow educators whose behaviors and approaches fit diverse students because they can address their needs and inspire them for further achievements.

However, there is a gap in the literature regarding the detailed explanation of the shortage of African-American male educators from the perspective of the path-goal theory because the main focus is on Critical Race Theory and culture-related theoretical models. Nevertheless, while being rather neutral to discuss race- and gender-based phenomena and problems, the path-goal theory can be successfully applied to researching and analyzing educator shortages in Title I schools (Öqvist & Malmström, 2016). The reason is that the path-goal theory allows for discussing the problem of the lack of African-American male educators and principals in schools from social and political perspectives, rather than racial and cultural ones. The analysis of the recent literature on equity and social justice as important factors to guarantee institutional effectiveness in the context of Title I schools indicates that researchers are inclined to discuss these questions in relation to such aspects as race, gender, the role of STEM programs, recently adopted policies, and the phenomenon of achievement gaps (McGlamery et al., 2016; Nasir & Vakil, 2017). If the problem of shortages associated with the number of teachers of color is addressed, it is possible to expect promoting equity and justice in educational settings, as well as institutional success and students’ progress.


The existing literature on the topic of African-American males’ professional work in K-12 public schools across the United States indicates that there is indeed a growing shortage at all levels and positions of leadership and instruction (Bristol, 2015). That shortage is of the greatest concern with regard to leadership and instructional positions at elementary schools (Coles-Ritchie & Smith, 2017). This challenge should be further researched as the literature is rather inconclusive as to African-American male educators and more specifically principals significantly contributing to improving academic achievements and discipline of African-American male students who have historically underachieved at the elementary school level (Lindsay & Hart, 2017). Furthermore, the current literature on the topic is less definitive in declaring which approaches used by African-American educational leaders in their work are both successful and favorably viewed as appropriate to remediate diverse student learners in U.S. schools, especially, Title I elementary schools.


Blaisdell, B. (2016). Schools as racial spaces: Understanding and resisting structural racism. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 29(2), 248-272.

Bonastia, C. (2016). Black leadership and outside allies in Virginia freedom schools. History of Education Quarterly, 56(4), 532-559.

Boston, C., & Warren, S. R. (2017). The effects of belonging and racial identity on urban African American high school students’ achievement. Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching & Research, 26(1), 26-33.

Bristol, T. J. (2015). Teaching boys: Towards a theory of gender-relevant pedagogy. Gender and Education, 27(1), 53-68.

Brooms, D. R. (2017). Black otherfathering in the educational experiences of black males in a single-sex urban high school. Teachers College Record, 119(12), 12-24.

Brown, T. M., & Rodriguez, L. F. (2017). Collaborating with urban youth to address gaps in teacher education. Teacher Education Quarterly, 44(3), 75-92.

Bryan, N., & Milton Williams, T. (2017). We need more than just male bodies in classrooms: Recruiting and retaining culturally relevant black male teachers in early childhood education. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 38(3), 209-222.

Bryson, B. S. (2017). “They were constantly on the losing side of things”: The pedagogical power of an African-American teacher candidate bearing witness in teacher education. Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(4), 527-545.

Buras, K. L. (2016). The mass termination of black veteran teachers in New Orleans: Cultural politics, the education market, and its consequences. The Educational Forum, 80(2), 154-170.

Coles-Ritchie, M., & Smith, R. R. (2017). Taking the risk to engage in race talk: Professional development in elementary schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 21(2), 172-186.

Curran, F. C., & Kellogg, A. T. (2016). Understanding science achievement gaps by race/ethnicity and gender in kindergarten and first grade. Educational Researcher, 45(5), 273-282.

Dinkins, E., & Thomas, K. (2016). Black teachers matter: Qualitative study of factors influencing African American candidates success in a teacher preparation program. AILACTE Journal, 13(1), 23-40.

Dixson, D. D., Roberson, C. C., & Worrell, F. C. (2017). Psychosocial keys to African American achievement? Examining the relationship between achievement and psychosocial variables in high achieving African Americans. Journal of Advanced Academics, 28(2), 120-140.

Duke, D. L. (2017). Can within-race achievement comparisons help narrow between-race achievement gaps? Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 22(2), 100-115.

Dumas, M. J., & Nelson, J. D. (2016). (Re)imagining black boyhood: Toward a critical framework for educational research. Harvard Educational Review, 86(1), 27-47.

Graves, S. L., Herndon-Sobalvarro, A., Nichols, K., Aston, C., Ryan, A., Blefari, A.,… Prier, D. (2017). Examining the effectiveness of a culturally adapted social-emotional intervention for African American males in an urban setting. School Psychology Quarterly, 32(1), 62-72.

Griffin, A., & Tackie, H. (2017). Through our eyes: Perspectives from black teachers. Phi Delta Kappan, 98(5), 36-40.

Hale, J. E. (2016). Thirty-year retrospective on the learning styles of African American children. Education and Urban Society, 48(5), 444-459.

Hambacher, E., Acosta, M. M., Bondy, E., & Ross, D. D. (2016). Elementary preservice teachers as warm demanders in an African American school. The Urban Review, 48(2), 175-197.

Hambacher, E., & Bondy, E. (2016). Creating communities of culturally relevant critical teacher care. Action in Teacher Education, 38(4), 327-343.

Henry, A. (2017). Culturally relevant pedagogies: Possibilities and challenges for African Canadian children. Teachers College Record, 119(1), 1-12.

Howard, T. C., Douglas, T. R., & Warren, C. A. (2016). “What works”: Recommendations on improving academic experiences and outcomes for black males. Teachers College Record, 118(6), 6-12.

Hudley, A. H., & Mallinson, C. (2017). “It’s worth our time”: A model of culturally and linguistically supportive professional development for K-12 STEM educators. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 12(3), 637-660.

Jett, C. C., & Cross, S. B. (2016). Teaching about diversity in black and white: Reflections and recommendations from two teacher educators. The New Educator, 12(2), 131-146.

Khalifa, M. A., Gooden, M. A., & Davis, J. E. (2016). Culturally responsive school leadership: A synthesis of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 1272-1311.

Lancellot, M. (2016). Exploring racial integration: Views from an African American, male, former school superintendent. Multicultural Learning and Teaching, 11(2), 177-196.

Larson, K. E. (2016). Classroom management training for teachers in urban environments serving predominately African American students: A review of the literature. The Urban Review, 48(1), 51-72.

Lindsay, C. A., & Hart, C. M. (2017). Teacher race and school discipline. Education Next, 17(1), 72-78.

Mahatmya, D., Lohman, B. J., Brown, E. L., & Conway-Turner, J. (2016). The role of race and teachers’ cultural awareness in predicting low-income, black and Hispanic students’ perceptions of educational attainment. Social Psychology of Education, 19(2), 427-449.

McGlamery, S. L., Franks, B. A., & Shillingstad, S. L. (2016). Teacher training in urban settings: Inquiry, efficacy, and culturally diverse field placements. Metropolitan Universities, 27(1), 44-55.

Milner, H. R. (2017). Where’s the race in culturally relevant pedagogy? Teachers College Record, 119(1), 1-12.

Monroe, C. R. (2016). Race and color: Revisiting perspectives in black education. Theory into Practice, 55(1), 46-53.

Nasir, N. I., & Vakil, S. (2017). STEM-focused academies in urban schools: Tensions and possibilities. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 26(3), 376-406.

Öqvist, A., & Malmström, M. (2016). Teachers’ leadership: A maker or a breaker of students’ educational motivation. School Leadership & Management, 36(4), 365-380.

Orazbayeva, K. O. (2016). Professional competence of teachers in the age of globalization. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 11(9), 2659-2672.

Pabon, A. (2016). Waiting for black superman: A look at a problematic assumption. Urban Education, 51(8), 915-939.

Petchauer, E. (2016). Shall we overcome? Self-efficacy, teacher licensure exams, and African American preservice teachers. The New Educator, 12(2), 171-190.

Pilonieta, P. (2017). First-and second-grade urban students’ path to comprehension strategy use: A practitioner’s framework. Reading Psychology, 38(4), 369-389.

Preston, H. F. (2016). The case for a teacher like me. American Educator, 40(3), 20-22.

Roksa, J., & Whitley, S. E. (2017). Fostering academic success of first-year students: Exploring the roles of motivation, race, and faculty. Journal of College Student Development, 58(3), 333-348.

Ross, K. M., Nasir, N. I., Givens, J. R., De Royston, M. M., Vakil, S., Madkins, T. C., & Philoxene, D. (2016). “I do this for all of the reasons America doesn’t want me to”: The organic pedagogies of black male instructors. Equity & Excellence in Education, 49(1), 85-99.

Sandilos, L. E., Rimm‐Kaufman, S. E., & Cohen, J. J. (2017). Warmth and demand: The relation between students’ perceptions of the classroom environment and achievement growth. Child Development, 88(4), 1321-1337.

Sato, T., & Hodge, S. R. (2017). African American teacher candidates’ experiences in teaching secondary physical education. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 36(1), 97-112.

Schenke, K., Nguyen, T., Watts, T. W., Sarama, J., & Clements, D. H. (2017). Differential effects of the classroom on African American and non-African American’s mathematics achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(6), 794-813.

Scott, L. A. (2016). Where are all the black male special education teachers? Perspectives on Urban Education, 13(1), 42-48.

Scott, S. V., & Rodriguez, L. F. (2015). “A fly in the ointment”: African American male preservice teachers’ experiences with stereotype threat in teacher education. Urban Education, 50(6), 689-717.

Slaten, C. D., Rivera, R. C., Shemwell, D., & Elison, Z. M. (2016). Fulfilling their dreams: Marginalized urban youths’ perspectives on a culturally sensitive social and emotional learning program. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 21(2), 129-142.

Thomas, E. E., & Warren, C. A. (2017). Making it relevant: How a black male teacher sustained professional relationships through culturally responsive discourse. Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(1), 87-100.

Tyler, D. E. (2016). Communication behaviors of principals at high performing Title I elementary schools in Virginia: School leaders, communication, and transformative efforts. Creighton Journal of Interdisciplinary Leadership, 2(2), 2-16.

Vilson, J. L. (2015). The need for more teachers of color. American Educator, 39(2), 27-31.

White, T. C. (2016). Teach for America’s paradoxical diversity initiative: Race, policy, and African-American teacher displacement in urban schools. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(16), 1-42.

Wilson, C. (2016). Enacting critical care and transformative leadership in schools highly impacted by poverty: An African-American principal’s counter narrative. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 19(5), 557-577.

Wilson, K. (2016). Exploring an integrative lens of identity for a high school mathematics teacher. Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research, 12(1), 163-173.

Yates, L., Moore, J., Vairez, M. R., Barber-Freeman, P. T., Ross, W., Parker, W. H., & Bautista, R. (2015). The grit of African American male pre-service teachers. Journal of the Texas Alliance of African-American School Educators, 1(2), 11-38.