- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) Jason Johnston took a job at mostly black Midway Elementary School in hopes he could make a difference with the children who needed him most.
But Mr. Johnston, one of only a handful of white teachers at the school, decided to leave after less than a year, disillusioned by pupils who struggled, parents who weren't involved and the constant pressure to meet state achievement standards.
"It wasn't what I expected," explains Mr. Johnston, who now teaches high-performing fourth-graders at a wealthy, mostly white Atlanta school.
"It's not because of race issues," he says. "It's about where you feel comfortable."
Mr. Johnston is part of an exodus, that some see as troubling, of white teachers from black schools.
Three Georgia State University professors found that during the late 1990s white elementary school teachers in Georgia were much more likely to quit at schools with higher proportions of black students.
After the 1999-2000 school year, 31 percent of white teachers quit their jobs at schools where the student population was more than 70 percent black, and those who changed jobs went to schools that served lower proportions of black and poor pupils.
"The race of the student body is the driving factor behind teacher turnover," the researchers wrote. Other studies have found increasing numbers of white teachers leaving public schools in California, New York, Texas and North Carolina but only the Georgia State study singled out how race factored into the phenomenon.
Many Georgia teachers say they felt pressured to leave low-performing schools after the state passed an education reform law that tied teacher pay to test scores. Still, the study found that white teachers were leaving predominantly black schools even in the Atlanta city and suburban DeKalb County districts that were among the state's highest paying.
"It's discouraging," says study co-author Ben Scafidi, an assistant professor of economics, public administration and urban studies. "And the most depressing part is our evidence suggests that even large wage increases won't help."
But John Evans, president of the DeKalb County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, says no one should be surprised to see young white teachers leave for the suburbs after a year or two. Many teachers, especially young women, are scared of black neighborhoods and don't want to be there after dark, he says.
Mr. Evans rejects the idea that black schools can't be successful without white teachers. If they don't want to be there, then let them go, he says.
However, there simply aren't enough black teachers to go around. Only 20 percent of Georgia teachers are black, but black students make up 40 percent of the public school population.
That means high teacher turnover at black schools, which hurts the quality of instruction, Mr. Scafidi says. Schools that have a lot of teaching positions to fill every year can't be as selective. They also wind up with more inexperienced teachers.

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