Multiple studies have proven that public education is essential to a thriving democracy. One reason for this is because public education helps to promote diversity and understanding. Students who are exposed to classmates and teachers from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and orientations are more likely to be successful as adults.
The world is a complex place, full of different people. Public education should be used as a tool to help children develop the skills they will need to thrive as citizens in an evolving society. Unfortunately, public education has suffered many setbacks in recent years, including decreased access to civics education. Another such setback involves public educations’ inability to keep up with shifting demographics.
Increase in Minority Students in America
Minority students are accounting for a larger percentage of the population. In 2003, minorities accounted for 41 percent of the student population in the country. Ten years later, half of all students in the country identified as a minority. This trend is expected to continue in coming years. By 2024, white students are expected to account for only 46 percent of the enrolled students in the country.
Lack of Diversity Among Teachers
While students are becoming more diverse, teachers are not. Today, 82 percent of the educators in America’s public schools are white. That’s less than one in five teachers. This means that the diverse student body is not being given the opportunity to learn from teachers who reflect our truly-diverse country. (We won’t even get into the diversity, or lack-thereof, of public school administration.)
The discrepancy between diverse students and diverse teachers is known as the diversity gap. Interestingly, the diversity gap varies significantly (a) with different backgrounds and (b) in different geographic locations.
The diversity gap tends to be most pronounced in urban areas and least pronounced in rural areas.
Urban Diversity Gap
- Hispanic Teacher/Student Diversity Gap: 21.8%
- Black Teacher/Student Diversity Gap: 9.7%
Suburban Diversity Gap
- Hispanic Teacher/Student Diversity Gap: 14.5%
- Black Teacher/Student Diversity Gap: 7%
Rural Diversity Gap
- Hispanic Teacher/Student Diversity Gap: 5.6%
- Black Teacher/Student Diversity Gap: 5.6%
Why is the diversity gap so much greater in urban parts of the country? Cities tend to be more heavily concentrated with minorities than towns and rural areas. As a result, the lack of diverse teachers is more pronounced.
The wealth of a public school district, regardless of its geographic location, also influences the diversity of the teaching staff. Studies show that high-poverty areas are more likely to employ minority teachers. Low-poverty and high-wealth areas, on the other hand, tend to employ mostly white teachers.
If diversity among peers and teachers is important for a well-developed and productive society, children raised in urban and/or high-poverty areas are statistically less likely to get the education they need.
Fighting For Diversity in Teaching
Students need to be exposed to students and teachers of varying backgrounds. It is only through this exposure that children can truly gain the skills they will need to be members of an informed and productive democratic society. If students are not given the opportunity to see minorities in positions of power, they are not receiving a full and beneficial education. The only way to change this is to shift the demographics of teachers in America.
How can we shift the demographics to reduce the diversity gap?
Proposal #1: Provide minorities with greater access to affordable post-graduate education.
One roadblock for minority educators is the price of a degree. Studies show that many black, Hispanic, and Asian high school graduates express an interest in entering the field of teaching. However, the educator pipeline loses a majority of the minority applicants along the way due to crippling financial costs. Making education degrees, which are now essentially required for all public teaching jobs, more accessible and affordable will help to close the diversity gap.
Proposal #2: Shift resources to education to support higher teaching wages.
Public teachers are one of the most important assets to a democratic society, but among those who receive the least in compensation. Minority applicants may be more inclined to (a) explore the field of teaching and (b) make their way through the educator pipeline if compensation were more appropriate.
Proposal #3: Limit charter schools that limit diversity.
While the overall enrolled student population is becoming increasingly diverse, many schools are actually becoming less diverse. Why? Charter schools are competing with public schools and drawing certain segments of the population.
Since these schools can determine which students enroll, and which don’t, they can essentially control the diversity of their own student body. A high-brow private school that enrolls mostly white students can adversely affect the diversity of a nearby public school. As a result, students are not able to learn and grow with others who come from different backgrounds.
The bottom line is that diversity is crucial to providing our students with a well-rounded education. Depriving students of the ability to learn with and from diverse individuals is a crippling disservice to them and the future of our country.