MIAMI – The teachers in America’s classrooms do not represent the student population they teach, this according to figures by the Department of Education that show that less than 15 percent of teachers in the United States are African-Americans or Hispanics.
These figures are more alarming when taking into consideration that more than one third of America’s student body, or 35 percent of them, are minorities, said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a recent interview with Telemundo.
“We have a growing student population that is Latino and less than 7 percent of our nation’s teachers are Latino. That doesn’t make sense to me,” Duncan said.
The education secretary believes that these figures could be key in figuring out the reasons behind the high drop-out rates in Hispanic and African-American communities, where more than 50 person of Hispanic students are abandoning school.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of the 3.5 million teachers in America’s public school system only 242-thousand are Hispanic. Those teachers must serve a population of 10 million Hispanic students. This means an average of 1 Hispanic teacher per 43 Hispanic students. For African-Americans there is an average of 1 teacher per 34 students.
“That’s why we want to bring more teachers of color, whether they are African-American or Latino, into the profession”, Duncan said.
One of those drop-out students is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villarraigosa, who briefly dropped out of High School at 17.
“When I was at Roosevelt High, nearly three decades ago, around 75 percent of my class dropped out”, he says. “I left out of boredom. I was not being challenged”.
For Duncan, cultural differences between a student and a teacher could be one of the key elements for a student to feel bored or unmotivated. That, he says, may lead them to drop-out of school. That’s why he believes that bringing more minority teachers into the classroom could have an impact.
“It makes a huge difference and it can’t overstated. All of us are doing what we are doing today because we had those teachers in our lives”, Duncan said.
And for Mayor Villarraigosa it was precisely one of those teachers who encouraged him to go back to school after his 6 month absence. He agrees that students are more encouraged to stay in school when they feel they have a role model.
“Besides the love of my mother, there is no greater influence than that of a teacher in my life”, he said.
That’s why Duncan is rallying the country as part of a government initiative known as the TEACH Campaign, a program to recruit more African-American and Latino teachers.
But the challenge is great. According to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, in the past 20 years minority teachers have been changing schools and abandoning the profession at higher rates than whites.
However, new Census figures showing that by 2050 one in every three kids will be Hispanic, may add to the government case that more teachers for minorities today may help the country’s future.
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