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Report: WI Woefully Lacking Teachers of Color

In Wisconsin, according to a new report, the gap between students and teachers of color rose from about 19 percentage points in 2009 to 25 points in 2019. (Adobe Stock)
In Wisconsin, according to a new report, the gap between students and teachers of color rose from about 19 percentage points in 2009 to 25 points in 2019. (Adobe Stock)
July 7, 2020

ARCADIA, Wis. -- Wisconsin's public school student population has become more racially diverse, but its teacher workforce still is mostly White. That's according to a new report from an independent research group.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum said between 2009 and 2019, the number K-12 students of color increased by more than 28%, but teachers of color only make up 5% of those leading classrooms across the state.

Senior researcher at the Forum, Anne Chapman, led the study and said the trend contributes to Wisconsin's longstanding education-achievement gaps.

"When students have access to a teacher that comes from their same race or ethnic background, it tells a story that teachers of color are a valuable resource for students of color in terms of helping them in their success," Chapman said.

The report said in Wisconsin, Black students now make up just over 9% of K-12 students, while Black teachers comprise only 2% of all teachers. And while 12% of students are Hispanic, only 2% of teachers are.

The group is doing additional research to establish underlying factors, but Chapman said the issue stems from overall declines in the teacher pipeline system, and that school districts have had difficulty retaining teachers of color.

And Chapman said this isn't an issue isolated to certain parts of Wisconsin. She said it's a problem that can be found across the state.

"We looked at the change in the percentage of students and teachers of color between school districts in cities, suburbs, towns and rural areas, and we found that in that 10-year span, there were pretty wide gaps in all four of those categories," she said.

Lance Bagstad, superintendent of the Arcadia School District, said they've seen the population of Hispanic students grow in recent years, but most of their teachers are white.

While many of those teachers are bilingual and have a good rapport with their students, he said, it isn't the same as having educators who represent the racial demographics of their students -- which can help to inspire young people to enter the profession in the future.

"When you have people that are from a similar background, it not only gives kids a sense that people of their skin color or their racial background can also have opportunities in those different professions," Bagstad said.

He called on national and state policy leaders to come up with solutions to the problem. Locally, he said, the district is doing things such as posting job openings in Latin American countries, in hopes of recruiting certified teachers to come work in Wisconsin.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI