by Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As the pool of students in American schools grows more diverse, those studying to be teachers remain mostly White.

According to a new report by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a national organization that analyzes teacher education programs, 82 percent of people who earned Bachelor’s degrees in education in 2009-2010 school year were White.

The study surveyed more than 700 colleges and universities that train about two-thirds of the teaching force.

Nearly half of the U.S. student population is members of racial or ethnic minorities, yet only about one in five teachers are people of color. Only 6 percent of teacher candidates were Black and 4.2 percent were Hispanic.

Of the 29 million students enrolled in public schools in 2010, 15 percent were Black and 23 percent were Hispanic.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing a smaller number of racial and ethnic minorities in front of classrooms for a number of reasons,” said Anthony Graham, the chair of the department of elementary education at North Carolina A & T State University in Greensboro. “Salaries, for one, are an issue. Also, a lot of students are not interested, based on their own experiences. There are a lot of things that play into this.”

The average starting teacher salary is $30,377 according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Computer engineers make about $70,000 coming out of school.

“We’re finding that college-bound minority students have so many career options,” said Sharon P. Robinson, the president of the association told the New York Times. “We have to develop some specific recruitment strategies to attract our share of those students into those teacher education programs.”

Alternative programs that license teachers, but do not award degrees have a more diverse pool of students, with about 76 percent of the candidates being White, 7 percent Black, and 8 percent Hispanic.

“We have to a better job of a pipeline approach,” says Graham, whose program awards about 60 students with degrees in education per year. “By introducing the career at an earlier age we can better showcase the benefits of returning to a community and uplifting it through teaching.”

Graham, however, notes that despite efforts schools may already have to recruit minority teacher candidates, many fail to pass the Praxis exam, the required teacher certification test.

“Despite the teachers we try to produce, we’re losing a number of  them to this exam,” says Graham

Between 2002-2005, Black teacher candidates had a Praxis passing rate of 52.1 percent, according to a study by the Educational Testing Service, which prepares the Praxis exams as well as the SAT tests. White teacher candidates had a passing rate of 83.5 percent during that same period.

“It causes a ripple effect in terms of their own education,” says Kimberly Garrett, an assistant professor of early childhood education at Dominican University in Chicago. ”They haven’t had proper teaching themselves so they aren’t able to teach. It’s an additional struggle for black and Hispanic students.”

Garrett’s program has 36 candidates in early childhood education right now, only three are Black, two are Hispanic, and one is Asian. Of Chicago Public Schools’ 400,000 students, 41.6 percent of students are African American and 44.1 percent are Latino.

“The race and ethnicity of teachers is important because it supports a child’s developing self-image to see someone of authority they can relate to of have some level of comfort around,” Garret says.

According to a report by the National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force, teachers of color can not only help close the achievement gap, they also help students of color reach higher academic, personal, and social performance.

Garrett says, however, that although students benefit from having teachers of color,  its more important for them to have culturally and intellectually  competent adults in these roles than anything else.

“There is an aspect of value that someone from the same ethnic group brings to the classroom that helps to develop students on a deeper level,” says Garrett. “But it’s not just an ethnic match that’s important.”

“There was a special rapport that I had and do have with students of color that added to the experience,” she adds.  “But that doesn’t take away from the connection all teachers can have if they’re aware of their students and their varying needs.”