Classrooms are becoming more diverse, but the people leading them remain predominantly white.
More than 80 percent of the bachelor's degrees in education awarded during the 2009-10 school year were to non-Latino white students, according to a new study by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). Three-quarters went to women, and only 4.2 percent went to Latinos.
At the same time, the racial and ethnic makeup of the country's student body has become less monolithic over the years. Nearly half of all children under five right now are minorities, and no racial or ethnic group will constitute a true majority in the United States by 2050, according to Census data.
The racial and ethnic makeup of the teaching profession doesn't reflect that shift. "While more diverse teachers have entered the profession in recent years, their numbers have not kept pace with the PK–12 population shift," the AACTE study said. "An analysis of the National Center for Education Statistics (2012) data showed that students of color made up more than 45% of the PK–12 population, whereas teachers of color made up only 17.5% of the educator workforce."
Part of the reason is that there are more white people in college than minorities, but it's also because minorities aren't choosing to pursue teaching careers.
Few minorities, especially men, think about becoming teachers. Many have simply never had minority teachers themselves, and so they don't identify with the idea, said Paul Beare, dean of California State University-Fresno's Kremen School of Education.
His school has made diversity a priority in recent years, and with a good deal of success. Kremen, which Beare said is about 65 percent minority students, is more diverse than most. That number, however, still needs to grow to reflect the diversity of the surrounding community. Nearby Sanger Unified School District has an 82 percent minority population, for instance, with a quarter of all students being English-language learners.
Fresno State has worked to increase the diversity of its student teachers by offering them financial incentives and fellowships and partnering with local school districts.
Classroom teachers and student teachers work side-by-side in a co-teaching model instead of having a student teacher take over for a period of time, which gives children access to more educators and allows student teachers a chance to see how classrooms really work. Fresno State students also receive instruction from their professors on-site.
The results have been encouraging, in part because of the partnership with Fresno State, university officials say. In the last eight years, student test scores at Sanger have improved and the percentage of teachers who quit has dropped from around 40 percent to less than five percent.
Beare has also worked on making education professors at Fresno State more diverse. About 58 percent are minorities. It's not perfect or reflective of the student body yet, but it's something Beare says he continues to prioritize.
Getting teachers, especially minorities, into STEM classrooms needs to be a focus for programs looking to increase diversity, Beare said. Unlike other professions that graduate far more workers than the labor market needs, there are shortages of teachers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, which are the ones currently hiring the most workers.