Although the student body in most public schools is becoming increasingly diverse, many of the teachers do not reflect that same diversity. In fact, teacher diversity is actually decreasing.
A recent NY Times article and a study by the National Education Association show some disturbing trends:
77 percent of teachers are women (up from 71 percent three decades ago).
80 percent of teachers are white.
18 percent of the teaching population is of color (down from 26% two decades ago.)
You might not think that these trends matter, especially if these teachers are dedicated and have each student’s best interest in mind. And, of course, most teachers do. However, many studies show that the continuing gap in educational achievement among minorities is directly related to the lack of diversity in the teaching profession. When black children had a black teacher between third and fifth grades, boys were significantly less likely to later drop out of high school, and both boys and girls were more likely to attend college. These findings were from a large study last year that was conducted by Seth Gershenson, an economist studying education policy at American University.
And while there have been many other studies that have come to similar conclusions, what can actually be done about changing these trends?
The first and most important step is to make a commitment to recruit more diverse talent. For example, Clemson University started a program in 2000 with the express intention of increasing the numbers of black male teachers at elementary schools. And their commitment has paid off with an increase of 40%!
Clemson is also one of a dozen colleges participating in a program known as “Call Me MISTER.” The program specifically offers tuition assistance, loan forgiveness and peer mentoring to students that pursue education courses. Dr. Roy Jones who is the director of the program says, “It's not hard recruiting black athletes ... and if you put a premium and a value on recruiting master teachers, then it won't be hard to recruit black males who want to teach."
Just as there has been a concerted effort to increase diversity in corporate America, we need to make that same effort in our schools. And we need to do it as soon as possible. For the first time in the history of our country, the number of non-white students in public schools has surpassed the number of white students. If we want to a country that is innovative and progressive, we need to have a well-educated workforce and that will only come with recruiting more teachers that look like their students.
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