Opinion
Equity & Diversity Opinion

Do Our Schools Reflect the Students They Serve?

By Tammy Wawro — May 31, 2017 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Iowa’s geographic diversity is evident in our vast cornfields and farmland set against sprouting urban skylines. Our 3.1 million residents are also becoming more racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse, which is reflected in our state’s public schools.

Twenty years ago, 90 percent of Iowa’s public school students were white. Today, 77 percent of our student enrollment is white, 10 percent is Hispanic, and 6 percent is black. More than 100 languages are spoken in the households feeding into the Des Moines school system, which is Iowa’s largest urban district.

Do Our Schools Reflect the Students They Serve? Schools must adjust to changing demographics by creating diverse learning environments, writes Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association.

Students and families with diverse backgrounds have different ways of interpreting the many issues that arise in day-to-day school life. There are differences in how we communicate, make decisions, and act toward each other in and out of the classroom. Reaching all of our students and being sensitive to their needs, regardless of race, is an important priority for the Iowa State Education Association. One way we are addressing this need is by offering classes in the association’s professional-development academy.

For the past two years, the academy’s diversity classes, which are taught by licensed trainers, have grown in popularity. Since they were first offered in 2015, we have seen a 38 percent increase in participants taking the “Black Lives Matter” course; a 68 percent increase in those taking the “Far From Home: Building a Supportive Classroom for Refugee Students” course; and a 41 percent increase in those taking the “New Iowans” course.

While it is still too early to measure success, this uptick in participation shows that educators are working hard to keep up with the growing student diversity in their classrooms. Teachers recognize that Iowa’s demographics will continue to change, and they want to understand how best to relate to their students.

The Iowa State Education Association has an active multicultural committee, which has worked hard to recruit people of color to union leadership positions at the local and state levels. Our future goals include recruiting a more racially balanced leadership team at the national level and studying how we can get more people leading the classroom who share cultural backgrounds with those they teach.

We also want to see more children of color eventually enter the teaching profession. We know that some of the best recruiters are teachers themselves. Having a racially diverse teaching force can make a big difference when it comes to encouraging students of color to pursue the profession themselves. Our ISEA Student Program, which allows college students who plan to enter teaching to join the association, gives these young people access to leadership workshops that include cultural-sensitivity training and networking opportunities. If we can build the case with students of color about the benefits of entering the teaching field and leading the classroom, then we have gone a long way toward recruitment.

Public education is a great equalizer when all schools are given the same resources to help their students succeed. Our aim is to level the playing field so that all students receive the same great education to which they are entitled, regardless of their ZIP codes. I am confident the association is building toward that future.

A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2017 edition of Education Week as Confronting the Realities Of a Changing Population

Events

Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Opinion The ‘Great Replacement Theory’ Is a Lie. It's Also a Threat to Schools
The conspiracy espoused by the Buffalo shooting suspect is of particular concern for schools, writes Jonathan E. Collins.
Jonathan E. Collins
3 min read
Signs, balloons, and police tape are wrapped around a pole across from Tops Friendly Market, the Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store that was the site of a racist shooting rampage.
Signs, balloons, and police tape are wrapped around a pole across from Tops Friendly Market, the Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store that was the site of a racist shooting rampage on May 14.
Joshua Bessex/AP
Equity & Diversity A School Openly Discusses Race in a State That Bans It
At Millwood High School, discussions on race are everywhere, and students say the lessons are essential.
7 min read
Students pass through the halls in between classes at Millwood High School on April 20, 2022 in Oklahoma City.
Students change classes at Millwood High School this spring in Oklahoma City.
Brett Deering for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion The Buffalo Massacre Is Exactly Why We Need to Talk About Racism With White Students
Too many white people are receiving their information about race from racist media rather than their schools, writes David Nurenberg.
David Nurenberg
4 min read
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP
Equity & Diversity Native American Children Endured Brutal Treatment in U.S. Boarding Schools, Federal Report Shows
Deaths, physical and psychological punishments, and manual labor occurred at the more than 400 federal boarding schools.
5 min read
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks at the Cherokee Immersion School on Dec. 3, 2021, in Tahlequah, Okla. The Interior Department is on the verge of releasing a report on its investigation into the federal government's past oversight of Native American boarding schools. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Wednesday, March 16, 2022, the report will come out next month.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks at the Cherokee Immersion School in December, in Tahlequah, Okla. Her agency's report documents harmful conditions, deaths, and physical punishment for Native American students forced to attend federal boarding schools.
Michael Woods/AP