While half of U.S. public school students are minorities, fewer than 20 percent of their teachers are non-white, according to two studies from the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association.
Both groups refer to this as a “diversity gap” in elementary and secondary schools.
As of 2012, there were 3.3 million U.S. teachers and 82 percent were white, 8 percent Hispanic, 7 percent African American and 2 percent Asian, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
"We project that this fall, for the first time in American history, the majority of public school students in America will be nonwhite," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week.
The fact that four out of five teachers are white doesn’t make it easier for students to believe in the possibility of success, according to Kevin Gilbert, coordinator of teacher leadership and special projects for the Clinton Public School District in Clinton, Miss.
"Nothing can help motivate our students more than to see success standing right in front of them,” Gilbert told The Associated Press.
He says "when they can look and see someone who looks just like them, that they can relate to” they feel they can succeed.
In places where there are fewer minority students, nonwhite teachers promotes diversity and increases achievement.
"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," said report author Ulrich Boser.
But African-American college graduates aren’t going into teaching, instead they seek more lucrative jobs, LaRuth Gray, who is scholar-in-residence at the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at NYU, told the AP.
"It's not seen as the ideal careers to have, and so therefore our youngsters, our black children tend to move in other directions," saidGray.