A growing and troubling imbalance is showing up in American classrooms.
New studies call it the “diversity gap.” An increasing percentage of students are children of color, but the teaching staff has remained mostly unchanged at more than 80 percent white. The gap in race, ethnicity and often socioeconomic background between teachers and minority students creates communication barriers, which can worsen the achievement gap in public schools.
Center for American Progress data show that 48 percent of students in public schools are minorities. Education Secretary Arne Duncan expects that for the first time in U.S. history, students of color will be the majority in public schools in the fall.
Many urban districts look a lot like Kansas City Public Schools, where about 59 percent of the 15,000 students are African-American, 27 percent are Latinos, 4 percent are Asian and 9.5 percent are white. But of 1,142 teachers, counselors and librarians, 64 percent are white, 28 percent are black, 5 percent are Latinos and 2.5 percent are Asian.
Superintendent Stephen Green said diversity plays a big role in hiring.
That’s necessary because white teachers may have difficulty understanding or relating to the culture and life experiences of minority students and their families, said Edward Underwood, executive director of the Institute for Urban Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Education. The institute was established in 2005 to draw more students of color into the education profession.
Clearly, the extra effort is needed. By the fifth year in classrooms, 50 percent of new teachers overall have left the profession, Underwood said. In comparison, 80 to 85 percent of the Kansas City institute’s graduates are still in the classroom. That stability helps to build communications with students and their families, close the achievement gap and contribute to long-term academic success.
The UMKC institute’s high rate of success in placement and retention of teachers in urban school districts should be a model for schools of education nationwide. America’s changing demographics demand a more representative teaching corps.