Working toward diversity

Local districts are trying to bring in more minority teachers.

Despite having the highest percentage of minority teachers in the county, the Central Kitsap School District still has nearly three times more minority students than teachers.

With that statistic in mind, the Central Kitsap School District renewed its Affirmative Action Plan for hiring last Wednesday. The purpose of the plan is to ensure teachers and staff are hired fairly regardless of race, ethnicity or other such characteristics.

Every school district in Washington state with 50 or more employees is required to have such a plan on record.

Central Kitsap’s plan is set on a five-year schedule, to next be reviewed and updated in 2018.

As the school board reviewed the plan at its most recent meeting, the numbers in Central Kitsap reflected a systemic issue in American education: Schools in the United States have a massive disparity between numbers of minority students and minority teachers.

In 2011, 22.3 percent of Central Kitsap students identified as members of minority groups (American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic), while only 8.7 percent of staff did the same.

For its Affirmative Action Plan, Central Kitsap looked at the number of workers in their area that identified as minorities: 15.3 percent.

They then cut that by one-fifth to account for “pure chance.” Based on that number, the district’s “statistically expected utilization” was 12.24 percent. Meaning, any job category where less than 12.24 percent of staff were minorities would be considered a problem area.

In 2013, all but two of eight categories were under 12.24 percent, and all of them were under 15.3 percent.

The disparity in minority teachers to students, however, is far from a hyper-local problem. In fact, Central Kitsap has the highest percentage of minority teachers of any district in the county.

This school year, CKSD is more than a percentage point higher in terms of minority faculty and staff than any other Kitsap County school district.

But even leading all other local districts, CKSD is still behind its own goals.

Systemic problem

Statewide, 33.8 percent of students identified as members of minority groups, while only 10.8 percent of school staff identified in those same categories.

But nationwide the numbers are even worse.

Minority students make up some 40 percent of the population in public schools. In 40 percent of public school’s however, there is not a single teacher of color, according to the Center for American Progress.

The center theorized this disparity could be attributed in part to low graduation rates among minority students. At the time of the report’s publishing, graduation rates among Latino, black and Native American students stood at 56, 54 and 51 percent respectively.

An assessment on teacher diversity by the National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force, released in 2004, stated, “Students of color tend to have higher academic, personal, and social performance when taught by teachers from their own ethnic groups.”

It did qualify that this finding does not mean other teachers were incapable of achieving the same results through culturally responsive teaching techniques.

The problem schools are presented with is a sort of chicken and egg conundrum — minority students may have a better shot at graduating when taught by teachers of similar backgrounds, but in order to get more minority teachers into those classrooms, school’s need more minority graduates.

While unveiling a new teacher recruitment campaign in 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stressed the nation’s need to build a more diverse teaching core.

“I’m very concerned that increasingly, our teachers don’t reflect the great diversity of our nation’s young people,” Duncan said. “And so making sure we have more teachers of color and particularly more men, more black and Latino men, coming into education is going to be a significant part of this Teach Campaign.”

Since states and districts began implementing affirmative action plans, such as the one Central Kitsap just renewed, the gap has been shrinking — but as of yet only slightly.

In 2004, 90 percent of teachers in Washington state were white. Since then that number has steadily, if slowly, fallen year after year to its current place at 87.6 percent.

At this rate, it would take decades for most districts to attain workforces with minority rates similar to those of their student populations.

With additional steps, such as early outreach programs and increases in culturally responsive teaching, Saba Bireda and Robin Chait, authors of an analysis for the Center of American Progress, think those numbers may begin to equalize.

They concluded, “America’s rapidly diversifying student population demands an equally diverse teaching force. Policies that strengthen teacher training, recruitment, selection, and retention should include an emphasis on increasing the number of minority teachers in the field.”