The Department of Education is kicking off the new school year with a message: Teachers are too white and too female. They don’t look enough like the students they teach.
The next question is what should be done to remedy this perceived inequity? More money, of course. Money to raise teacher pay to attract more (fill-in-the-blank) teachers.
If the math doesn’t add up to you, you’re not alone.
Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, used the idea that our nation needs a teaching workforce that matches the diversity of the children it teaches to kick off his annual back-to-school bus tour. He hit on the idea that we need to spend more on education to attract more minorities and men.
This year the population of school children is expected to be majority non-white for the first time. This phenomenon is driven by a rise in the Hispanic population. The demographics of teachers don’t match that, however. According to data, in the 2011-2012 school year, 82 percent of schoolteachers were white, while seven percent are black and eight percent Hispanic. More than 75 percent were female as well.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
A more diverse group of teachers — including more teachers of color and male teachers — better serves all students, he said.
“This is doing the right thing for our nation,” Duncan said.
Making teaching more prestigious, providing more training for teachers, and paying good teachers more would help schools do a better job of attracting and retaining educators of all backgrounds, including those from underrepresented groups, he said.
“I think great teachers have to make a heck of a lot more money,” Duncan said.
And, Duncan said, the country needs to do a better job of identifying the teacher preparation programs that are producing high-performing teachers — whether those programs are traditional 4-year programs or programs that attract career-changers.
We can agree that we want qualified teachers who can connect with young people, but there’s an underlying assumption that teachers of a different race can’t effectively teach children who don’t look like them. We learn from people who don’t look like us just as we learn from those who do. For example, I hardly remember most of my teachers after second grade but I can never forget my first and second grade teacher Ms. Hum (Wing). I am black and she was Asian, but in her class I learned to read and other fundamentals of my education.
There’s another goal that we should question. As with many racial quota-driven policies, the end is not the betterment of the individual but getting the process right. For Duncan, the goal is to get the teacher racial composition to mimic that of the student body. Again, diversity of perspectives is a good outcome but should not be a goal within itself. You can attract new teachers, but if they are not qualified by any criterion other than being racially diverse, it does more harm than good.
We want teachers who are qualified of all races not just teachers of all races.
Finally, throwing more money at a problem is not a smart solution. Effectively investing dollars on high-return people is. Tying bonus and pay raises to teacher effectiveness attracts high performers who will work hard for their higher earnings and hopefully it can weed out those who take a lazy approach to educating students. In short, incentives matter, but blanket raises perpetuates the same, ineffective behavior that has always existed.
Duncan may mean well, but our children need more than just quotas. They need smart, motivated teachers who can open their minds to new experiences. Diversity is a tool to achieve that but it should not be the end itself.