Despite diversity growth among Iowa students, number of teachers of color lags

K-12 color divide extends to training programs

Published: February 6 2014 | 3:30 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:14 am in
Print Print

Janelle Blanco just knew. During high school, when the Burlington native did a job shadow with a preschool teacher, Blanco was certain.

“I ... said, ‘This is exactly what I want to do,” she recalled. “I want to be a teacher because I love learning and I want young students to have that passion for learning and I want to share that with them.”

Blanco is now student-teaching in Ankeny as she wraps up her studies at Iowa State University. She plans to graduate with a degree in early childhood education from the school in May and begin teaching – somewhere in Ames or Ankeny, she hopes. And when she does, Blanco – who described herself as racially white but from a Hispanic background – likely will be in the minority.

While Iowa’s population of public school students in kindergarten through grade 12 is more ethnically diverse than ever, the state’s public school teaching force is not following suit. The Iowa Department of Education’s 2013 Annual Condition of Education report, released on Jan. 15, showed that only 2.5 percent of the state’s 1,559 beginning public school full-time teachers for the 2012-13 school year identify as “minority,” meaning they have a “reported ethnicity of Hispanic and/or reported race of American Indian/Alaskan Native, African American, Asian, Pacific Islander or multiple races.”

That figure is actually a drop from the 2.8 percent who identified as such in both 2000-2001 and 2011-2012.

“The pool of candidates in Iowa is certainly less diverse than it is around the country,” said Tom Ahart, superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools, the state’s largest school district.

Officials at the state’s three regent universities, which each have teacher education programs, said they’re working to change that.

A ‘systemic’ issue

Susan Lagos Lavenz, associate dean for teacher education and student services at the University of Iowa College of Education, favored taking a “systemic” view of what has caused the color barrier between the state’s teachers and students.

“We’re talking about recruitment, which means getting to students early, in their early high school years, in their middle school years, to think about being a teacher and aspiring to that,” said Lagos Lavenz, a former building principal in the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

“Providing role models is a part of that, … then giving them support systems along the way. Then the university goes to recruit them. We know we have to go to rigorous steps to do that recruitment.”

UI College of Education data shows that 72.8 percent of students enrolled in the college identify as white. Increasing enrollment of students from underrepresented groups – which includes people of color as well as first-generation college students – is a recruitment objective, Lagos Lavenz said.

In addition to an existing “special consideration clause for underrepresented groups” for applicants, Lagos Lavenz pointed to a plan set to debut in 2015 that will allow high school students to be admitted directly to the college instead of applying in the sophomore year of their undergraduate education, as a way to boost diversity.

Correne Bass, who identifies as black, graduated from the UI in 2011 and now teaches sixth grade at Weber Elementary School in Iowa City. She recalled being the only student of color in her cohort when she was in studying at the College of Education.

“I have to imagine it wasn’t super different from the experience from the other students,” she said. “It could be isolating at times, but it’s not like anyone ever made an issue of it.”

Bass was one of 26 full- or part-time licensed staff persons of color in the Iowa City Community School District in the 2012-2013 school year, according to Iowa Department of Education data. People of color made up 2.35 percent of the 1,106 licensed full- or part-time staff members in the district, which has a nonwhite student enrollment of about 38 percent.

“Sometimes I forget the little subtle ideas it can plant when you don’t see people like you around you or in leadership positions,” she said of her students, who hail from many different countries including Egypt, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. “It doesn’t have to be an explicit thing, but I think it can be something students internalize and don’t realize that they do. … I think sometimes students being able to see that it can be done, and that someone else has done it, can put that on their radar.”

Chace Ramey, the chief community affairs officer and chief human resource officer for the Iowa City district, said he’d like to see the educators’ ethnic makeup more closely mirror that of their learners.

“Having a diverse work force is a very positive thing for our district, for our students and for our community,” he said. “… If we have a representation of what our community looks like, teaching our children, that helps our students as they grow and become citizens and learn to be contributors to our community when they leave our schools.”

Over the past year, Ramey and other district administrators have been in conversations with UI College of Education faculty about collaborating to recruit teachers of color to live, learn and work in the Iowa City area. Ramey said the partnership is still in its infancy, but that people on both sides are excited to eventually reveal initiatives and plans to increase diversity.

Recruitment and retention

Officials at both Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa also have sought to diversify their teacher education programs, focusing their approaches on recruitment and retention.

In 2011-2012, 90.58 percent of the students enrolled in UNI’s College of Education identified as white. Dwight Watson, dean of UNI’s College of Education, said he would like to see the program’s population of students of color increase and pointed to the Recruitment and Retention Coordinator role as one key part of that goal.

The coordinator meets with high school students to encourage them to attend UNI and study education and then continues on as that student’s academic adviser if he or she opts to go to the university.

“That person’s role is to help eliminate any roadblocks,” Watson said. “We don’t want them floundering. We want them to matriculate and be successful.”

Denise Williams, diversity coordinator for ISU’s College of Human Sciences, which includes the School of Education, said that she is unaware of any specific ethnic diversity recruitment efforts on behalf of the School of Education. The school includes the Teacher Education program, whose fall 2013 enrollment consisted of 600 students and 91.17 percent of whom were white.

She maintained that the college has “a pretty rigorous recruitment office that works with students individually.”

Williams also is involved with the Connect Four initiative, designed to increase retention for the college’s students of color by pairing them with peer mentors.

Blanco – the recipient of the George Washington Carver Scholarship for students of color – said the school has “a lot of scholarships and support for students” but didn’t have any ideas for what officials could do to increase ethnic diversity for the Teacher Education program.

“I do think it’s most important to teach multiculturally," she said. "I do think it’s important for students to see teachers they identify with. I think that’s essential. … I do think Iowa State has excellent preparation for that."

ILEAD

In 2010, students founded ISU Leaders in Education and Diversity (ILEAD), which aims to advocate and prepare “diverse future educators,” according to its constitution. Williams advises the group, which she estimated has about 10 active members, and Blanco is its former vice president.

“The students could help each other and form a learning community,” Williams said about the group’s formation.

She also noted that recruiting people of color to the profession, through outreach to high-schoolers, is still a “long-term goal,” for the organization.

ILEAD members host dinners with local administrators and school staff and network with teachers of diverse heritages from throughout the nation in order to learn about the reality of being educators of color.

“It’s very much about self-reflection and how to make my classroom open to all students, whatever background, of all diversities, and really prepare to have a true multicultural classroom,” Blanco said.

__________

Future educators

In 2010, students founded ISU Leaders in Education and Diversity (ILEAD), which aims to advocate and prepare “diverse future educators,” according to its constitution.

Body copy ragged right: Denise Williams, diversity coordinator for ISU’s College of Human Sciences, advises the group, which she estimated has about 10 active members, and Blanco is its former vice president.

“The students could help each other and form a learning community,” Williams said about the group’s formation.

She also noted that recruiting people of color to the profession, through outreach to high schoolers, is still a “long-term goal,” for the organization.

ILEAD members host dinners with local administrators and school staff and network with teachers of diverse heritages from throughout the nation in order to learn about the reality of being educators of color.

Body copy ragged right: “It’s very much about self-reflection and how to make my classroom open to all students, whatever background, of all diversities, and really prepare to have a true multicultural classroom,” said Janelle Blanco, a student teacher in Ankeny.

— Meryn Fluker

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Is there other feedback and/or ideas you want to share with us? Tell us here.



Featured Jobs from corridorcareers.com