Getting Teachers TO MIRROR Students

Article excerpt

Byline: Madhu Krishnamurthy mkrishnamurthy@dailyherald.com By Madhu Krishnamurthy mkrishnamurthy@dailyherald.com

Elgin Area School District U-46 is the state's second-largest, and one of the most diverse -- 68 percent of its more than 40,000 students are ethnic minorities.

But they're being taught by mostly white teachers. That's reflected in a 45.7 percentage point gap between the portion of minority students and that of minority teachers.

While that makes U-46 near the top of suburban school districts with the biggest gaps in diversity between students and teachers, the district is hardly alone, a Daily Herald analysis of statewide school data shows.

Among suburban school districts, these diversity gaps range from a 10 to 75-percentage-point difference.

In East Aurora Unit District 131, which is virtually all minority students, there is a 71.4 percentage point gap. In Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54, it's 40.6. In Naperville Unit District 203, it's 25.8.

In fact, only in small districts with low minority student populations are there not double-digit percentage gaps between portions of minority students and those of their teachers.

Districts with some of the highest percentages of minority students are stepping up recruitment efforts to hire and train more diverse teachers and support staff members to mirror their students.

Bridging that gap is high on U-46's priority list, said Melanie Meidel, U-46 assistant superintendent of human resources.

Of the district's 7,271 employees, 78 percent are white, 15 percent are Hispanic, and 5 percent are black. The district is reaching out to more diverse college job fairs to widen its pool of candidates, Meidel said.

Many suburban school districts are starting to realize they need to find more creative ways to recruit and retain minorities, while educating existing employees on understanding and more effectively communicating with students of different races and cultures.

Palatine Township Elementary District 15 -- which has a 44-percentage-point difference between its minority students and minority teachers -- has developed a diverse pool of program assistants, some of whom went on to become teachers in the district. The district also provides intercultural training for its principals, new teachers and interns, and is developing core curriculum supporting cultural diversity.

At Round Lake Area Unit District 116, which has the widest gap -- 75 percentage points -- between minority students and teachers, officials are now holding hiring managers accountable for giving serious consideration to qualified minority candidates for existing vacancies.

"With the exception of the administrators group, we have not been as successful in attracting qualified (minority candidates) who are underrepresented in the district," said Lee Palmer, executive director of human resources. "Moving forward, we must make a concerted effort to reach out to underrepresented group members and create a work environment that is both welcoming and culturally receptive, sensitive, and inclusive in order to facilitate a truly diverse workforce."

Few minority teachers

Experts say finding qualified, minority teaching candidates can be a challenge, and diversity education is an uphill battle against entrenched stereotypes.

Nationally, there is a shortage of minority teachers because not enough of them go into teaching -- partly because of their own negative school experiences and also because careerwise, there are more attractive opportunities outside the education field, experts say. Eighty-three percent of public school teachers are white, while blacks and Hispanics each make up 7 percent, and Asians about 1 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics 2011 report.

Illinois has only 11 percent teachers of color, while the statewide nonwhite student population is at 46 percent, according to a November 2011 report by the Center for American Progress. …