For the Record: Teacher diversity

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Black and Latino teachers are increasingly rare in Illinois and in Chicago. Quishun Elrod of Faraday Elementary is one of them. At Faraday, the faculty was 70 percent African American in 2000 and is now just 30 percent black.

Photo by Jason Reblando

Black and Latino teachers are increasingly rare in Illinois and in Chicago. Quishun Elrod of Faraday Elementary is one of them. At Faraday, the faculty was 70 percent African American in 2000 and is now just 30 percent black.

The Center for American Progress released a report recently, “Teacher Diversity Matters,” detailing the “teacher diversity gap” state-by-state.

The findings paint a sobering picture of minority under-representation, statewide, in the teaching profession: Just 54 percent of Illinois students are white, but 89 percent of teachers are.

While teacher diversity has improved nationally in recent years, the number of minority teachers in Chicago has been on a downturn. A Catalyst Chicago analysis published in the Winter 2011 issue of Catalyst in Depth found that 62 percent of new teachers in CPS today are white, compared with 48 percent a decade ago, while 90 percent of students are children of color.

One likely reason: Hiring has shifted from predominantly black Chicago State University to other schools where more education program graduates are white.

Other policies are also having an impact:

*In turnaround schools, where CPS replaces most of the staff, the racial balance has shifted from 70 percent black to less than 50 percent black. That issue sparked a Chicago Teachers Union complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

*The union says that summer 2011 teacher layoffs had a disproportionate impact on African-American and Latino teachers.

*Recent changes to the state’s basic skills test, required for admission to teaching programs, resulted in a freefall in pass rates, especially among aspiring minority teachers.

However, the report notes, teachers of color face roadblocks. They are less likely than white teachers to be satisfied with their pay and working conditions–possibly because they are more likely to work in schools with fewer resources in poor communities–and more likely to be unhappy with how their schools are run.

A study published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management also suggests that a lack of minority principals is a contributing factor. Teachers who are the same race as their principal have higher job satisfaction and lower turnover rates.

The same study also found that outright discrimination is also to blame: White teachers with white principals earned more “supplemental” pay (such as compensation for running after-school activities) than African-American teachers did, and some research has also found that applicants with “white-sounding” names are called in for more job interviews than those with “African-American sounding” names.

Alternative-certification programs are one strategy for addressing the diversity gap – the Center for American Progress report notes that about one-quarter of Hispanic and African-American teachers came through alternate routes, compared to 11 percent of white teachers.

Organizations like Grow Your Own Illinois are also addressing the issue, and Catalyst Chicago reported in its winter 2011 issue of Catalyst In Depth on local universities’ efforts to train more diverse and culturally competent teacher candidates.