Minority Teacher Shortages
The school-aged population and the demand for teachers have increased steadily over the last decade in the U.S., but minorities are disproportionately underrepresented in the teaching profession. Many college-educated minorities have not been encouraged to consider teaching as a career and have chosen to work in other, higher paying fields. Many who do join the profession do not want to work in low income schools where most minority students are. More individuals, including minorities, are qualifying as teachers through alternative teacher certification rather through the traditional teachers' colleges. Teacher testing has also been a roadblock for minorities, who have a failure rate higher than whites causing critics to charge that some tests are racially and/or culturally biased. Hispanics make up the largest minority group in the U.S., but they and African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans are all underrepresented in the teaching profession. There are many initiatives to increase the number of minority educators. Professional organizations and local, state and federal governments support recruitment campaigns and offer scholarships and mentoring strategies.
ACADEMIC TOPIC OVERVIEWS
Politics, Government & Education > Minority Teacher Shortages
In 1954, the year of Brown v. Board of Education, many US schools were segregated and most black students had black teachers. In fact, at that time, most college-educated African Americans were teachers and approximately 82,000 of them were responsible for the education of two million black public school students. By 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, there were 38,000 fewer black educators nationwide (Torres, 2004, p. 9). Ironically, black teachers were lost in the desegregation struggle as integrated schools held fewer slots for them.
The Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s and subsequent affirmative action programs through the 1970s and 1980s did open a greater range of professions to minorities, who took advantage of new educational opportunities. Glass ceilings were broken as careers were launched in unprecedented numbers in all the professions.
Still, after decades, minorities are underrepresented in many professional fields, and no more visibly so than in the ranks of elementary and secondary public educators, where 80% of the teachers are white, even though 41% of the students in U.S. elementary and secondary public schools are of color.
A Plea for Minority Teachers
In 1989, Bob Chase, then President of the NEA (National Education Association), directed a plea to the black community that espoused the need for more than token representation of minority teachers in America's schools and reported on efforts to recruit minorities into the profession in keeping with the tenet of affirmative actionÑrighting wrongs of the past, but not granting preferential treatment. He said that competence must be the defining criterion for hiring any teacher, and that excellence and diversity are not mutually exclusive.
Some Important Statistics
In 1993-94 the school-aged population was 67 percent white with 33 percent minorities; in 2003&ndash05 the white school-aged population shrank to 58.3 percent and minority students had swelled to 41.7 percent of the school-aged population (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007a).
Whites constituted 87% of the elementary and secondary school teacher population in 1993-94 and 83.3% in 2003-04. Although the black student population lost some share in the ten-year period from 16.6 percent to 16 percent, the percentage change of black teachers from 7.2 percent to 7.8 percent is marginal and still far from falling into the same proportion as the student percentage. Hispanics realized greater teacher gains from 4.2 percent (1993) to 6.2 percent (2003), but this is not at all in proportion to the sizable growth in student percentages of 12.1 percent to 18.6 percent, respectively (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007b).
According to a 2013 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011/12, there were a total 3,850,100 teachers for elementary and secondary schools. Of these, 82.7 percent were white; 7.5 percent were of Hispanic origin; 6.4 percent were African American, 1.8 percent were Asian American; 0.1 percent were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander American, 0.4 percent were American Indian/Alaskan Natives, and 1.0 percent were two or more races. The 2013 NCES report did not specify whether teachers were full-time, part-time, or both.
Job prospects look good today for all qualified teachers. With a teacher shortage in many regions, the ongoing retirements of Baby Boom generation teachers, and the projected continued growth of school-age populations through the century, the well-prepared teacher is an in-demand commodity. With such opportunity, why aren't there more minority teachers?
Recruitment or Racism?
The NEA and other professional organizations, state departments of education and schools districts have initiated recruitment campaigns and have offered scholarships and funding incentives to recruit minorities into the teaching fold, but have realized only modest success. Kitty Kelly Epstein (2005) asks in her scholarly study and social critique of the problem, if the reason is due to a problem of recruitment or a problem of racism. As with most social issues, there is no single factor why, and very few of the reasons are backed with research data.
Perceptions of Status
June Gordon, Professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, claims she has some of the answers that emerged from extensive interviews with black professionals and teachers of color. Her overwhelming conclusion is that students of color are discouraged from entering teaching by their family and teachers. "Over one half of the teachers interviewed claimed that the negative image and low status of teachers were among the main reasons students of color are not entering the field of teaching" (Gordon, 1997, p. 41). This is amplified the longer the community has contact with mainstream society (Gordon, 2002). In other words, the dominant (white) culture believes that teaching is a low status career, so the minority culture believes it all the more.
Furthermore, Gordon found irony in that the majority of her black teacher interviewees weren't more confident in their careers, even though most were seasoned professionals who were at the top of their earning power and most owned their own homes. Consequently, most assumed that today's prospective student wouldn't be happy in a career of teaching because of opportunities in other professions, where they could make more money and have advancement opportunities.
Although most of her interviewee teachers thought that teachers of color could be more effective with like students, most admitted that they were at a loss what to do with low-income and troubled kids. Most saw themselves as middle class even though they might have grown up in poverty themselves. Surprisingly, reluctance to teach in low-income black schools was a socioeconomic decision (Gordon, 2002).
Lack of Teacher Retention
There are other societal factors at work against increasing the pool of minority teachers. It is clear that there is much more mobility in all of the professions and it is acknowledged that today's young people do and will change jobs more frequently than previous generations. A study, "Quality Counts 2000," reported that young teachers who leave the profession early are often the brightest. It found that the majority of those who stayed were those whose test scores fell into the lower test score percentile (Duarte, 2000). This is not encouraging if schools are going to meet today's accountability standards.
Torres, Santos, Peck, & Cortes (2004) of The Education Alliance at Brown University issued a comprehensive review of research relating to "Minority Teacher Recruitment, Development, and Retention" in 2004. The authors asked five research questions about minority decisions to enter teaching through the retention of employed minority teachers. They uncovered numerous studies and data that pointed to the advantages of a racially diverse teacher workforce and suggested further avenues of research. Besides the reasons for underrepresentation of minority teachers previous discussed, they added inadequate academic preparation, unsupportive working conditions, and lack of cultural and social support (Torres, et al., 2004, p. 15-16).
A 2011 article by Richard M. Ingersoll and Henry May cited data from 2004-05, the year they said had the highest minority teacher attrition rate in the two-decade period they studied. According to the data, 47,600 minority teachers entered teaching in the 2003&ndash04 school year but about 56,000 minority teachers &mdash or 20 percent more &mdash left teaching by the beginning of the following school year (64). Of these, about 30,000 teachers left to pursue another job or career or due to dissatisfaction with their teaching job (65).
Teaching as a Second Career
A more promising trend for the teaching profession is that is that second-career older workers are becoming educators. Some see it as an opportunity to leave a less fulfilling job and move into a career where they can make a difference. Maturity and life experience can have a tremendous impact on the ability to handle difficult teaching jobs and to guide young lives. Many of these career-changers are entering teaching through alternative teacher certification programs rather than working their way through the traditional college program educational curriculum.
Do Minority Teachers Make a Difference?
Another obvious question that must be asked is if minority teachers are scarce, and minority individuals choose not to enter the professions, does it really matter? That is, does it really make a difference if a student is taught by someone of his or her own race? After all, in a diverse society with integrated schools, should this question even be asked? The widely accepted answer is that it indeed does make a difference, particularly to students in those schools where self-esteem and family income are low. Many believe that students growing up in low income minority communities, role models, particularly male, are sorely needed for students of color.
In an attempt to test these beliefs, Thomas Dee, Professor at Skidmore College and an affiliate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, conducted an extensive and elaborate analysis of grade school students, black and white, though four years of schools (K-3) in Tennessee. His investigation " effectively compared the performance of students assigned to teachers of the same race with the performance of students who were assigned to teachers of a different race but who were in the same grade and who entered the experiment in the same school and year" (Dee, 2004). He concluded that black students who had a black teacher for a year had statistically significant higher test scores both in math and reading; interestingly, the results were almost as significant for white students who had a white teacher.
Dee recognized that there are a variety of factors at work that would explain why race could matter....
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