Op-Ed: Camden aims to put more teachers of color in the classroom

A study found that Black students who have two Black teachers are a third more likely to go to college
Clayton Gonzalez (left) and Wasim Muhammad

As members of the Camden City Advisory Board of Education, we are fortunate to have front-row seats to the tremendous progress being made in our district and to the resilience shown by our staff and students this year.

Over the last several years, Camden city leaders, educators and parents have embarked on a collaborative effort to improve the city’s schools. This effort has led to real results. A June 2020 poll by Global Strategy Group showed that 70% of parents believe Camden schools have improved over the past five years.

The high marks from parents are supported by data. Our graduation rate has risen 20 points; student proficiency in math and reading has increased for four consecutive years, and nearly $500 million has been invested in school facilities.

But we aren’t done yet. As education leaders in our city, we are committed to maintaining this progress and to taking it to the next level. One key focus of our current work is to diversify the teacher workforce.

Helping students achieve a positive racial identity

Research demonstrates the significant and unique value of representation in the classroom. A 2017 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Black students who have two Black teachers in elementary school are 32% more likely to go to college. Educators are mentors and role models who help students achieve and develop a positive racial identity.

We have seen diversification in our leadership ranks: Nearly 70% of Camden principals in the city currently identify as leaders of color. With the investments described below, we will mirror this success with our teacher workforce.

First, city and philanthropic leaders are collaborating on the following initiatives:

  • The Camden Teacher Pipeline, a partnership to recruit aspiring teachers from Rowan University to build their careers in Camden, with a focus on teachers of color, launched in 2018;
  • The Center for Black Educator Development (CBED) is working to recruit and develop the next generation of Black educators in Camden. This summer, CBED will host a Freedom School Summer Literacy Academy staffed by college and high school students interested in careers in education;
  • Rowan University is offering high school students interested in education the opportunity to enroll in college-level education courses. Students will receive college credit and can enter the pathway to become a teacher in Camden.

Second, schools in Camden are implementing their own innovative programs:

  • Robust teacher pipelines through partnerships with colleges and universities and investments in coaching and instructional support serve to recruit and retain teachers;
  • A Summer Teaching Fellows program, which recruits rising college seniors to gain teaching experience and gives them the opportunity to secure a teaching position post-graduation. More than 80% of fellows in this program are students of color;
  • A Teacher in Residence program offers novice teachers the opportunity to learn under mentor teachers, ensuring that they have support as they develop as teachers.

Finally, local leaders, including our superintendent, are advocating at the state level to address policy barriers to recruiting more teachers of color. This advocacy led to the introduction of a package of bills in August to diversify New Jersey’s teacher workforce.

As Camden’s school progress has demonstrated, innovation and focus drive results. The comprehensive initiatives our city is pursuing will lead to a more diverse workforce, and we look forward to watching today’s young people become tomorrow’s teachers.

We’re in this together
For a better-informed future. Support our nonprofit newsroom.
Donate to NJ Spotlight