English Learners

As Nation’s Students Become More Diverse, Teaching Corps Hasn’t Kept Pace

By Corey Mitchell — August 08, 2016 2 min read
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In 2015, slightly more than half of the nation’s children younger than 1 were non-white, U.S. Census Bureau data indicate.

It’s just the latest data point marking a demographic transition, the shift from a majority white nation to one with no majority racial or ethnic group that’s also playing out in the nation’s K-12 classrooms.

At this point, the data show that it’s probably a misnomer to refer to non-white students as minorities. Two years ago, the number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students in public schools surpassed the number of non-Hispanic whites.

But while students in the nation’s classrooms are increasingly more diverse, the people educating them aren’t. In a nation where nearly half of all children under five right now are non-white, and no racial or ethnic group will constitute a true majority in the United States by 2055, according to an analysis of Census data from the Pew Research Center, the teaching corps in K-12 classrooms remains overwhelmingly white.

A 2013 analysis by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that more than 80 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in education awarded in 2009-10 were to non-Hispanic white students. The study, which relied on National Center for Education Statistics data, found that less than 20 percent of the U.S. teaching corps is non-white.

The shortage is especially acute among non-white males. Education Week has written about the shortage of black male teachers and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education study referenced above found that Hispanic teachers are woefully underrepresented in classrooms.

A June report from the Teacher Project at Columbia Journalism School examined how the shortage of Hispanic teachers is affecting the Boston school system.

The Pew analysis found that “racial and ethnic minorities” have accounted for much of the nation’s population growth in recent decades

The shortage of Hispanic teachers is of particular concern for educators and advocates for the nearly 5 million English-language learners, the nation’s fastest-growing student population, of whom roughly 75 percent are Spanish speakers. Attracting Hispanic, Spanish-speaking teachers, and bilingual teachers overall, could have a marked effect on English-language learning in schools, where there are severe shortages of qualified ELL teachers, even in states like Texas.

A 2013 survey by the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based organization of big-city school systems, found that roughly half of its 67 member districts had a shortage of bilingual and ELL teachers or anticipated struggling to fill positions in the near future.

The National Association for Bilingual Education, or NABE, and TESOL International Association, the organization for teachers who specialize in working with English-learners, have both expressed interest in a federal response to the shortage.

Graphic Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Pew Research Center

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.