The need for greater diversity in the teaching workforce
Thursday, September 01, 2016
U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. recently urged parents to help encourage and bring about more diversity in the teaching workforce in order to keep up with the growing student diversity in K-12 schools. King received a lot of flak after his speech despite the student-teacher ratios that support his stance.
The latest Department of Education report found major gaps in the teaching workforce pipeline and a severe lack of diversity among teachers at K-12 public schools across the country. Students of color make up 49 percent of the U.S. public school system, but only 18 percent of teachers are nonwhite.
Studies show minority students can benefit much more from having minority teachers who can forge a better connection with them, but the skewed ratio is getting in the way. By increasing teacher diversity, it may be easier to handle the persistent achievement gaps among black and Hispanic students.
Studies conducted on elementary school students in Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida show there has been a distinct improvement in math and reading when students interacted and learned from teachers of the same race. They even had less tardiness and fewer disciplinary issues.
But the solution may not be that simple.
One big factor is that few minority college graduates are opting for teaching positions, compared to their white counterparts. A new study from the Brookings Institution and the National Council on Teacher Quality also stressed that unless the hiring practices and recruiting efforts change drastically, this pipeline issue is not going to be solved so easily, and the dearth of qualified minority candidates will continue.
The study points out that we can't expect real change until 2060 unless better recruiting strategies are adopted. The "diversity gap" — the difference in the proportion of minority teachers and minority students in public schools — between black teachers and students is and will remain at 9 percent, but it will increase to 22 percent for Hispanic students and teachers during this time.
While having the same race teacher may act as a moral support and motivation for black and Hispanic students to graduate and complete college, not having them is doing exactly the opposite. Yet when they do graduate, few want to teach — and so the vicious cycle continues. While 95 percent of white education major graduates express an interest in teaching, only 76 percent of their black counterparts want to do so.
This well-publicized diversity problem is not just the Education Department's concern, but a cause that concerns everyone. A majority of parents and administrators support the increase in teacher diversity but admit it may take some time to reach that goal.
Policies need to incorporate new long-term strategies to motivate more minority students to attend and complete college, and then return as teachers to motivate the next generation. They also have to be motivated enough to stay longer in classrooms and interact with students more and develop better connections.
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