A new study from the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association shows that the racial and ethnic backgrounds of U.S. teachers don't reflect the diversity of their students. According to the study, nearly half of students who attend public schools are members of minority groups, while less than 1 in 5 of their teachers are, Associated Press reports.
The study hopes to call attention to this "diversity gap" at elementary and secondary schools in the United States, with both groups saying more can be done to help create more diverse classrooms.
"It becomes easier for students to believe" when they can look and see someone who looks just like them, that they can relate to," Kevin Gilbert, coordinator of teacher leadership and special projects for the Clinton Public School District in Clinton, Miss., told AP. "Nothing can help motivate our students more than to see success standing right in front of them."
A more diverse teacher pool could benefit white students as well.
"Even in a place like North Dakota, where the students aren't particularly diverse relative to the rest of the country, it's important for our social fabric, for our sense as a nation, that students are engaging with people who think, talk and act differently than them but can also be just as effective at raising student achievement in the classroom," Ulrich Boser, the author of the center's report told AP.
Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan projected that, "… this fall, for the first time in American history, the majority of public school students in America will be nonwhite."
"Teaching used be one of the only professions African-American college graduates could aspire to and make decent money," LaRuth Gray, scholar-in-residence at the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University told AP.
Gray says that as the country became more integrated, and other professions opened to blacks, teaching became less desirable among African Americans.
"It's not seen as the ideal career to have, and so therefore our youngsters, our black children tend to move in other directions," said Gray, who also serves as a government liaison for the National Alliance of Black School Educators.
Jan Alderson, a science teacher at Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland Park, Kan., who was recently inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame, told AP that she saw the changes at her school, but thinks there are other issues.
"We have very few teachers of minority background yet we've gone to about 40 percent minority population," said Alderson. "It's a beautiful blending, it's just teachers who don't have that cultural background, I think just that there are more issues."
Read more at the Associated Press.