If you're a nonwhite student in California, chances are slim you'll be taught by a nonwhite teacher, according to a study published in 2011 by the Center for American Progress.
The report found that the public school teacher workforce hasn't kept up with the nation's changing demographics. Students of color make up almost three-quarters of the student body in California, yet 71 percent of the faculty are white. And while each state has a diversity gap, California's is the highest in the country.
The report calculated a teacher diversity index for each state based on the percentage point difference between nonwhite teachers and nonwhite students. The higher the number, the greater the discrepancy between nonwhite students and nonwhite teachers, but low numbers don't necessarily mean higher diversity. Vermont tops the list with an index of four --the eastern state's student body population is 94 percent white and its teacher workforce is 98 percent white.
In the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, where about 41 percent of the student body is Hispanic, less than 8 percent of the teacher workforce is nonwhite, according to 2011 Ed-Data statistics.
It's difficult to match student and teacher demographics when the hiring pool isn't particularly large or diverse to begin with, LTUSD Superintendent James Tarwater said. Programs like Two-Way Language Immersion and Career Technical Education are ways to engage students regardless of what their teacher looks like, he said.
"Obviously you like good models, but you want good quality models all the way through. It's the quality of instruction. You provide them with instructional materials to provide for diverse needs," Tarwater said.
But some educators and researchers stress the importance of having nonwhite teachers in the classroom who can act as role models for Hispanic, black, Asian or Native American youth. Ulrich Boser, author of the Center for American Progress report, said that some studies have found nonwhite students perform better academically if they're taught by a nonwhite teacher.
"It gives them a clear, concrete sense of a role model. When you look at what our students look like and what our teachers look like, it's a serious problem. When you go to the schools, you think it might not be so bad. When you look at the numbers themselves, it's huge, it's tremendous," Boser said.
The key - even in small communities like South Lake Tahoe - is making a concerted effort to hire more ethnically and racially diverse teachers by increasing the hiring pool, according to Boser. That means targeting nonwhite teachers by reaching out to more minority professionals, starting the hiring process earlier and making teaching as a career more attractive and welcoming to nonwhites, he said.
"There are plenty of highly qualified teachers out there. It's a matter of innovative outreach programs. It's by no means a matter of lowering standards," Boser said.
Lake Tahoe Community College President Kindred Murillo said she knows diversity at the college needs work. About 27 percent of the 5,930 students enrolled during the 2011-12 year were nonwhite, according to data on the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office website. During the 2011 fall term, four out of 40 academic tenured or tenured track teachers were nonwhite and 14 out of 127 temporary staff were nonwhite. There was a smaller gap among classified faculty, but white teachers still constituted a three-quarters majority.
The college doesn't have high job turnover so it's difficult to match changing demographic trends, Murillo said.
"It's something we have to work on really hard at the college. You have to cast a very wide net and try to target diverse areas. We really have a strong philosophy that the more diverse we are, the stronger we'll be," Murillo said.
Having a diverse teacher workforce contributes to a more welcoming environment at the college and eventually to a more globalized school, she said. But it's not something that comes easily, and Murillo said the college can tap into social media and national recruiting to bring in more diversity.
Increasing the pool of nonwhite teachers to choose from begins even earlier, and middle and high school services like the TRiO programs help students realize they can graduate from college, Murillo said. Programs like the Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) - federal funding designed to help colleges help first generation Hispanic students - also aim to close the achievement gap.
Boser warned that even with a more diverse pool of graduates, waiting for demographic change to naturally occur has its drawbacks. The way the teaching profession is structured encourages low turnover rates, and educators need to be proactive when it comes to attracting diversity.
"It's not enough to match our demographic future. Policymakers at the national, state, and local level must show the necessary leadership and answer the call for an effective and diverse teacher workforce," Boser wrote.
In other news:
South Shore choirs host holiday concert
The Lake Tahoe Community College Chorus and the Tahoe Choir present My Favorite things, a holiday concert that will take place Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Duke Theatre and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in St. Theresa's. Tickets costs $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors. Admission for children under 5 years old is free. The college is located at One College Drive, South Lake Tahoe. For more information, call 530-541-4660.
Barton University offers first aid class for babysitters
Barton University will hold a CPR and First Aid for Babysitters class Tuesday, Dec. 11, from 6:30-9 p.m. The course, conducted by a certified American Heart Association instructor, is recommended for anyone who works with small children. The cost for the single class is $35. Registration is accepted online at http://education.bartonhealth.org or call 530-543-5549 with any questions.
Registration open for children's winter break camps
CONNECT, Lake Tahoe Community College's community education program, will offer a series of two-day winter break camps for children. Choose from an outdoor adventure camp at Adventure Mountain, an indoor sports camp or an art workshop. Prices range from $80 to $144. The camps start Dec. 27 and run through Jan. 4. For more information, call 530-541-4660 X 717.
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