Saturday, June 1, 2019

The New Face of US Public Schools: Time to Respond

Public schools across the country are witnessing a mass exodus of white students. We see places like New York, Houston, L.A., and Miami-Dade white populations between 8-15%, with only 17%of white students residing in public schools in cities. White students make up a little over a third of suburban schools, and a third of rural schools. Yet, teachers of color make up only 20%of the public-school teacher workforce.

It is no secret that US Public Schools as a whole have not responded favorably to the academic success of students of color. Now, given the increase of diverse languages and ethnicity in our public schools, educational systems must find ways to connect instructional practices and policies to the new face of US public schools. Mainly because it is predicted that by 2027, U.S. public schools could be more than 50% of color.

While some may see this change as a threat to the academic structure of our school system, view our public schools through a deficit lens based on the color of the skin of the students, and use these topics as a way to move their children to private schools.

Yet what is missed is that our schools are becoming a mirror of the US general population. While diversity exists everywhere. For instance, 1990 Whites made up 81% of the suburbs, and by 2010, they represented 65% of these communities. As a country, we are beginning to look more and more like the country that reflects the “melting-pot” framework we so often speak of. It is also predicted that by 2030, the US population of color could be 45%and exceed 50%by 2060. We would be more diverse than any advanced country in the world.

The diversification of our country and public schools are pushing us to face a reality that as a country if we do not come together and embrace diversity, we will continue to be and forever be seen and act like a racist country. Or we can embrace decades of research from scholars of color on engaging in culturally responsive practice. This practice is not only designed to interact with students of color. The practice promotes culture and diversity as a critical part of learning.

In support of this notion, in my book, Ethnic Matching: Academic Success of Students of Color, I found that when students of color have a teacher of the same race (i.e., ethnic matching), their reading and mathematics scores increase.  Also, this experience has a long-term positive impact on these students’ academic achievement.

More so, I found that when white teachers are employed in schools with at least 30% of the teachers are of color, they engage in culturally responsive practice at a higher level than those teachers in schools with a less diverse workforce. Further, 80% of professionals of color who went to public schools and had at least four teachers of color had a better experience with white teachers. While 56% of those who have 1 or fewer teachers of color had positive interactions with White teachers. A study by Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng further showed that both white students and students of color have greater experiences with teachers of color than white teachers.  

As the face of US public education is becoming more diverse, the diversifying our teacher workforce can assist in addressing many issues in both our students and in our country. By hiring qualified teachers of colors and quality teachers trained in culturally responsive practice, we can expect the that achievement outcomes will increase, we can expect a stronger relationship between all students and teachers, and we may be able to reduce stereotypes and biases we may carry beyond the classroom. I know I am leaving out the elephant in the room, capitalism, but I am hopeful here.

Dr. Donald Easton-Brooks. Author of Ethnic Matching: Academic Success of Students of Color 
Twiiter: @dreastonbrooks

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