Yakima Valley schools seek more diversity among teachers

Posted on November 3, 2013

By Rafael Guerrero / Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA, Wash. — Erica Rodriguez, a second-grade teacher at Barge-Lincoln Elementary School in Yakima, was a child of immigrants who left Monterrey, Mexico, to work in the fields around Othello.

Rodriguez remembers that in grade school, she had few minority teachers, which she says influenced her decision to become an educator so more minority students would have role models.

“I wanted to tell (and show) kids they could get out of field work and not follow their parents,” said Rodriguez, who has been teaching for 15 years.

But today, Rodriguez and other minority teachers still aren’t represented in numbers that reflect the student population of schools up and down the Yakima Valley.

While the number of minority college students keeps growing, their interest in teaching remains low. For a number of reasons, teaching is simply not as appealing as other careers.

State data show that the racial and ethnic breakdown of Washington’s teachers does not mirror the demographics in the classrooms.

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Last school year, about 59 percent of public school students identified themselves as white, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Meanwhile, the percentage of teachers that identified as white was about 87 percent, according to the state’s Professional Educator Standards Board.

The disparity is far higher in the Yakima Valley, where minorities often make up the majority of students. Ten-year statewide and local data from the standards board show that while there’s been a slight increase in teachers identifying as minorities, their numbers are still dwarfed by teachers who identify as white.

In local school districts, where minority student populations can exceed 90 percent, the percentage of teachers identifying as non-white ranged from zero to a “high” of 33 percent in Grandview.

In the Yakima School District, easily the Valley’s largest, 75 percent of students are Hispanic but 80 percent of teachers are white.

In Yakima, these disparities are obvious, but there isn’t much officials can do to improve them, said Kelly Garza, assistant superintendent for human resources. For starters, the pool of minority teachers to recruit from is already small.

What’s more, some minority candidates do not stand out during the screening process and the district “may have to pass them up” for better choices. The Yakima School District, in the end, is looking for the best teachers out there regardless of race, he said.

“It is tough to get highly qualified, endorsed minorities,” said Garza, himself a former teacher and principal in the Wapato School District.

Sunnyside, the region’s second-largest school district, recently contracted with a recruiter who travels to colleges in the region in hopes of finding interested candidates — particularly Hispanic and bilingual teachers, who are the most coveted in a district where almost 92 percent of students last school year were Hispanic, according to OSPI.

Curtis Campbell, director of executive services for the Sunnyside School District, said it’s a priority to try and have the teacher workforce reflect the student population.

In order to make it happen, however, Campbell said the district needs more minorities to apply.

“This year, we saw a greater mix (applying) — not just in candidates but the candidates who fit in with the position,” he said.


Why do minorities avoid teaching?

There are numerous reasons why teaching is not high on many minority students’ radars.

“They go into more lucrative jobs,” said Ivy Butler, 34, who identifies as African-American, referring to engineering and medicine.

The average salary for a Washington public school teacher last school year was $52,223, according to the state superintendent’s office. The average salary for a mechanical engineer last year, on the other hand, was $84,770, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

When she was a grade school student in Denver, and later in Mukilteo, Butler didn’t have many minority teachers.

“If a kid sees someone that looks like them, they might say, ‘Oh, I might consider doing that,’” she said.

Like her mother, Butler wants to be a teacher and is studying general science education at Central Washington University with hopes of teaching high school one day.

Many minority students after finishing grade school may not want to relive the school experience as a teacher, said Ner Garza, an ESL teacher at Davis High School.

But Garza did not mind going back to the classroom and he’s now in his 25th year of teaching.

His family had migrated from the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to Prosser when he was a child and he eventually attended Yakima Valley Community College, Central Washington University and Heritage University.

Mea Moore, interim dean of Heritage University’s College of Education and Psychology, said family opinions about the teaching profession come into the picture — especially with first-generation college students.

“First-gen students tend to overlook education as a respected profession and are more geared toward engineering, medicine, law, math and sciences … just because the cachet of those professions have a higher perceptual value in a community,” said Moore.


Recruiting efforts

Heritage is one of many schools and groups in the state trying to recruit more minorities to study education.

At Heritage, where almost 66 percent of students identified themselves as minorities last year, education majors are enrolling in HU 105, a federally funded joint venture between Heritage and Educational Service District 105, an umbrella organization that provides a wide range of services to school districts in Central Washington.

The venture places prospective teachers into local schools for two years under what is essentially an extended student teaching program.

The goal of the program, funded through 2015, is to drive home the connection between the job and the community the student teachers are working in, Moore said. Making that connection is important because many teachers in high-need districts tend to relocate and new hires get brought in as replacements, creating what Moore describes as a revolving door effect.

Under HU 105, which has a high number of minorities interested in teaching, students spend much longer time in the classrooms compared to the average student-teacher. Many of them are local and come from backgrounds similar to the schoolchildren, Moore said. Having the children work with teachers they can identify with could inspire them to follow in their footsteps.

At least 20 percent of students studying education at CWU are minorities, but the university is trying to bump up those numbers, said Connie Lambert, dean of the College Of Education And Professional Studies.

Furthermore, the university is partnering with some school districts west of the Cascades for the Recruiting Washington Teachers grant program, which helps recruit minority high school students into education careers.

The statewide initiative, enacted by the Legislature in 2007, had a program in the Yakima Valley until last year when funding was cut.

Lambert said colleges are doing their part to narrow the ethnicity with programs like Recruiting Washington Teachers and HU 105.

“The teachers need to reflect the diverse body of the classrooms,” she said.

The Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee was created by the Legislature years ago to address the perceived academic disparities between students of different racial, social and economic backgrounds.

Lillian Ortiz-Self, co-chairwoman of the panel, said the committee recommended creating incentives for students to pursue teaching careers, providing services for minority teachers to cope with problems they may face, offering financial assistance and providing diversity and language training.

Colleges and universities statewide, in general, have not been doing enough to bring more diversity into the teaching field, said Wanda Brown-Billingsly, a committee member as well as a legislative representative for the state Commission on African American Affairs.

While she points at Heritage as an exception, Brown-Billingsly said she’s surprised that few minorities at the larger universities want to become teachers.

“I wouldn’t say the landscape is very good,” she said. “I don’t think the universities are doing a good job maintaining a pipeline” of minority students interested in teaching.

Editorial: Closing the diversity gap in public schools

Faculties looking less and less like the students they teach

Oct. 26, 2013

No school factor — not budget, not class size, not curriculum — is more important to a child’s experience in the classroom than the teacher, but that’s not how we treat teachers in the United States, and it shows.

About 40 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years of starting their careers — 46 percent according to a 2003 study by University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll — more than any other profession.

The reason? Generally, it’s the working conditions, compounded by the fact that the job — arguably the most important job for ensuring the well-being of our children and the long-term health of our democracy — barely pays the bills.

It’s perhaps the ultimate manifestation of decades of public policy-making that is hostile to public education, and to some degree it hurts all of us. But like all bad public policy, it hurts some more than others.

In today’s report, “Color blind in the classroom,” reporter Justin Hinkley offers a prime example.

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“Across the area, across the state and across the country, teaching staffs do not reflect the growing diversity of public school classrooms. While 20 percent of area students are of color, just 3 percent of local teachers are. Male teachers of color are especially lacking, with women teachers outnumbering men three-to-one.”

Some readers may ask themselves, “So what? What do ethnicity and gender have to do with the quality of classroom instruction?” If the only factors to consider were academic credentials or instructional competency, the answer may be little to nothing, but classrooms and schools aren’t laboratories, they are human communities that must manage and overcome human frailties in a complex and often emotional setting in which kids are not always at their best.

In a multicultural classroom, diversity matters. A lot.

Teachers of color serve as role models for students, giving them a clear and concrete sense of what diversity in education — and in our society — looks like. A recent review of empirical studies also shows that students of color do better on a variety of academic outcomes if they’re taught by teachers of color.

The relationship is far deeper, however, than one of skin complexion. It’s about cultural competency and the ability for students and teachers to identify with one another.

In a study last year, Howard University’s Ivory A. Toldson and Mercedes Ebanks reviewed the response patterns of nearly 9,000 students who completed the National Crime Victimization Survey: School Crime Supplement of 2009.

“We found that black students were less likely to perceive empathy and respect from their teachers and more likely to view the school as a punitive learning environment than white students,” Toldson wrote in an essay for theroot.com.

Toldson went on to write that many teachers may be operating under an implicit association bias, whereby on a subconscious level, they may view black children as security risks.

That may be difficult for many educators, who enter their profession for noble reasons, to accept, but the fact of the matter is that these perceptions exist, and those perceptions help to explain the stubborn achievement gaps between white students and students of color.

Recruiting diversity is part of the answer, but we suggest that it’s not the biggest part. New research from the University of Pennsylvania and UC Santa Cruz suggests that teachers of color, who are leaving the profession even faster than their white counterparts, want more influence over school direction and more autonomy in the classroom to teach what works.

In other words, they’re frustrated by the “teach to the test” mentality that is steadily destroying our nation’s public school system.

We’ve often written how high stakes tests are killing our schools, and the achievement and diversity gaps are among many indications of exactly how. As we said, bad public policy hurts all of us, but it always hurts some more than others.

Online article.

View DiT’s latest video clips on Social Justice and Cultural Clubs

We invite you to have a look at our developing section on Social Justice and Cultural Clubs under Project / Social Justice and Culture Club section. Here you can view and read what students, teachers and school administrators say about various clubs in the TDSB. On this page  you can view several video clips on what Students learn about themselves as a result of participating in clubs.

On this post we invite you to share your own reflections on what you learned as a result of being in Social Justice and Culture Clubs.

Teach For America boosts diversity

Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013 6:25 am

By Rebecca S. Rivas

Chris Leatherwood is a seventh-grade math teacher at Gateway Middle School, and he is part of the two percent of teachers nationwide who are African-American males.

He understands that there is a growing need for more black male teachers, he said. But that’s not why he chose to join Teach For America, a national organization that trains professionals to become teachers in low-income communities.

“I’m a product of the public schools, and I know how underprepared I was to enter college,” said Leatherwood, a Washington University graduate in English literature who joined the organization this year. “I wanted to help kids to be better prepared than I was.”

Just eight percent of children who grow up in low-income communities graduate college by age 24, according to the Postsecondary Education Opportunity research group. When Leatherwood committed to teaching in public schools for two years with Teach For America, he joined about 6,000 TFA teachers nationwide who want to ensure that all children receive an excellent education.


Click here to read the full on-line article.

St. Mary’s schools out to build more diverse teaching staff


St. Mary’s public schools officials are looking for ways to hire a more diverse teaching staff that better reflects the diversity of its student body.

Those efforts will be among the day-to-day responsibilities of Nicola Williams, who began work last month as the school system’s new coordinator of certificated staffing and minority recruitment.

Williams was tasked with looking at what is working and what is not working in the school system in areas related to diversity, including recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce. She said it will take some time to complete an assessment, but she already has ideas.

The achievement gap between minority and other students is “a complex issue,” Williams said. Funding, what’s best in terms of instruction and other issues need to be considered.

The local NAACP chapter and others have for years called for a more diverse school staff, including more African-American teachers to better represent the county’s demographics.

This year almost 19 percent of students in St. Mary’s public schools are African-American. Less than 7 percent of school staff members are black.

To read the full online article, click here.