Posted on July 30, 2004

Minority Staffing Still Lagging

Kristine Hughes, Dallas Morning News, Jul. 28

Hassan Slater is African-American and going into fourth grade in three weeks. If history is an indicator, about half of his 21 classmates at Stults Road Elementary will be black. Seven will be Hispanic and three Asian.

One or two will be white.

And so will his teacher.

Student populations have grown steadily more diverse in the 50 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the integration of public schools. However, that diversity hasn’t reached the teaching ranks.

“My son has never had an African-American teacher,” said Lamont Slater, who worries that, by appearances, his 9-year-old might think minorities aren’t allowed to teach.

“I don’t know what the long-term effect of that will be,” he said.

Overall, whites constitute 88 percent of Richardson’s teaching staff but 42 percent of students. Statewide, whites make up 72 percent of teaching staffs and 40 percent of students.

RISD officials acknowledge the benefits of providing a broader cultural context for students. They have established goals and taken steps with that in mind.

Still, the latest crop of new teachers attending orientation this week follows the same pattern: 81 percent of the 313 are white.

“We are making progress, but it is quite a struggle,” Deputy Superintendent Patti Kieker said. “We recognize the value of having teachers that make good role models for our students of all ethnicities, and we want to do that.

“We just have to work really, really hard at it.”

Recruiting efforts

Ms. Kieker said that each year, district recruiters attend more than 50 job fairs and visit universities, including some historically all-black schools. Officials also have provided training for principals and other administrators on hiring and retaining minority employees.

“We give them hints and tips about what it takes to recruit or to attract a teacher into your building if there are not a lot of other nonwhite teachers there,” Ms. Kieker said.

However, because competition is high for minority candidates — both among and within districts — new teachers are given wide latitude to choose schools. That’s why some schools have large concentrations of minority teachers while others have none, she said.

“All school districts nationwide compete for a small pool of minority teachers,” Ms. Kieker said. “It is quite competitive, and sometimes when we are recruiting, there may be over 100 recruiters trying to visit with very few — under 20 — candidates.”

National statistics indicate that only a small percentage of minority students earn degrees from four-year universities. In 2000, they received 21 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded.

What’s more, alternative certification programs are now producing the majority of Texas’ first-year and minority teachers, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.

A report in the June edition of the association’s publication HR Exchange, said, “At this point, alternative certification programs are the route-of-choice for minority teachers.”

RISD will hire uncertified teachers if they are already enrolled in an alternative certification program. At the same time, though, the district won’t hire them over good candidates who are fully certified.

“We want the best quality people to teach our students,” Ms. Kieker said. “People who have gone through a teacher preparation program obviously have some training that the others don’t.”

Mr. Slater, Hassan’s father, said RISD would receive an “influx of qualified candidates” if it relaxed that policy, particularly people who leave other fields during poor economies.

“Currently there are teachers that have been through the certification process but lack the proper socialization to deal with diverse populations,” he said. “I feel that’s a worse inadequacy than certification.”

Dallas figures

Because his wife is enrolled in the Dallas school district’s alternative certification program, Mr. Slater said, he sees how diverse it is firsthand. DISD’s figures show that of the 366 teachers participating, 63 percent are Hispanic, 20 percent black and 14 percent white.

Overall, DISD already has an equal share of white and black teachers — about 40 percent each — and about 16 percent Hispanic teachers.

“If the numbers stay up, we should have the best year for hiring minority teachers for the Dallas ISD,” employment director Linda Chance said.

Walter Dewar, a white Richardson parent, has publicly called for RISD to increase its number of minority teachers by 10 over the next three years.

He lives in the Pearce High School attendance zone, which has no minority teachers at several elementary feeder schools.

In addition, he said, the few minority teachers who are working on that side of the district don’t teach core subjects or grade levels.

“You’ve got kids that go through the whole Pearce feeder pattern and never have one black or Hispanic teacher,” he said. “I think in a public school for students in this day and age to have a virtual all-Anglo teaching experience is not a healthy situation. . . It’s not good preparation for the real world.”

Mr. Dewar met with school district officials last fall and followed up by writing a letter to The Dallas Morning News in June. He said the district should try harder to meet its stated goal of distributing minority staff more widely.

Others have suggested the ethnic percentages of teachers and students should be equal.

While a lofty goal, Ms. Kieker said, it is nearly impossible.

She said that the aim is for each school’s teaching staff to have the same ethnic composition as the teaching staff districtwide.