Teachers of color make up less than 20 percent of the workforce at a time when students of color are the majority in K-12 classrooms.
THEY’RE CALLED “WARM demanders” and “cultural guardians,” polite nods to the additional roles with which African-American and Latino teachers – often the only teachers of color in their schools – are typically tasked: disciplinarian, mentor, translator.
Lawrence Battle, a 29-year-old African-American social studies teacher at YES Prep's White Oak campus in Houston, would prefer to see those roles be ones of leadership positions: instructional coach, principal, school administrator.
"It is imperative that students see a reflection of themselves in the classroom, in the administration and in the highest level of education," Battle says. "We must put more men and women of color in these classrooms to show students that we are invested in your future, we are here and we care about what happens to you and we're here to guide you through a world that presents so many distractions."
Teachers of color make up less than 20 percent of the teaching workforce at a time when students of color, once called minority students, are now decidedly the majority in K-12 classrooms. In fact, every single state in the country has a higher percentage of students of color than teachers of color, and more than 40 percent of public schools don't employ a single non-white teacher.
Mounting research shows how detrimental that gap is: Teachers of color not only have a better cultural understanding of students of color, but they also hold them to higher expectations, often leading to better academic marks and increased chances of graduating.
But recruiting non-white teachers and then supporting and retaining them once they're in the classroom has been a constant challenge for states and school districts.
Now, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the organization that represents every state school chief in the country, is hoping to change that, starting with a yearlong program aimed at providing individualized support to nine states to connect them with experts to help them craft plans to address educator diversity.
Among those participating are Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico and New York. State education officials there are hoping to revise, enact or remove state policies in order to increase the number of non-white teachers by 2020, as well as ensure all educators are more culturally aware in their teaching practice.
As part of the program, Mississippi, for example, has set a goal of increasing the number of teachers of color in what they call their "critical shortage school districts" by 25 percent.