Honoring Diversity in the Classroom

Diversity Basics

Diversity encompasses a number of identifiers including race, ethnicity, gender, degree of disability and socioeconomic background. Scholars and educators study diversity through different lenses. In the book Cooperative Learning and Strategies for Inclusion, author JoAnne W. Putnam focuses on three categories of diversity: developmental and learning disabilities; sensory impairments; and cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Diversity Growth in Education

Over a span of 20 years, the U.S. population of Hispanic elementary and secondary students has grown 16%, while the national population of white students in the same grade levels has decreased 21%. As of 2016, up to 25% of school-age children in the U.S. are Hispanic.

In comparison, the demographics of the elementary and secondary teachers in the U.S. have not changed as dramatically in the same time span. The number of Hispanic teachers has increased 6% and the number of white teachers has decreased 7%.

In North Carolina, minority students make up 52% of the student population in public schools; however, 80% of public school teachers in North Carolina are white. In 2018, North Carolina had 11 school districts with no Hispanic teachers, eight districts with no black teachers, and one district with only white teachers.

The Role-Model Effect

North Carolina’s WRAL News explains that the relationship between teachers and students is crucial, “especially between students and teachers of color.” Minority teachers can improve reading and math performance for minority students, help them earn better scores on standardized tests, and increase their likelihood of attending college. “Known as the ‘role-model effect,’ researchers say students of color benefit both academically and emotionally from seeing teachers who look like them,” the article says.

According to a discussion paper series called “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers” from the IZA Labor Institute of Economics, teachers are one of “the most important school-provided educational inputs in the K-12 years.” Teachers can improve more than just test scores. IZA points out that primary school teachers have long-term impacts on their students’ income and educational attainment.

Findings from a Rutgers study show that racism in education is still an issue in 2019: White math teachers at predominantly black middle schools “are more likely to respond negatively to students’ behavioral or academic issues” which ultimately can have “long-term negative consequences for student performance.”

Dedicated to Diversity

Some school districts are taking action to ensure a more diverse population of teachers. In Kentucky, the Jefferson County Board of Education passed a racial equity policy in January 2019. Two million U.S. dollars will go to new initiatives in the plan. Components of the plan include hiring 128 teachers and 31 administrators of color.

At Boston Collegiate Charter School, students learn about a different cultural heritage each month through fun activities like food fairs.

Acknowledging Challenges

Data collected in 2018 by the Illinois State Board of Education revealed a “persistent gap between groups by race and ethnicity, income level and gender.” For example, white students at Barrington Middle School scored 25.9 points higher on statewide tests than Hispanic students.

Even at the elementary school level, achievement gaps are a problem in Illinois. At three different schools, white students scored between 7 and 17.9 points more on state tests.

Teaching for Maximum Learning

A study reported by Sylvia Hurtado shows that diverse student populations must be properly guided. “Merely encountering differences can promote feelings of superiority or inferiority among students rather than growth and development.” According to Hurtado, pedagogical techniques that “promote the type of interaction necessary to create equal status conditions and thus, learning in diverse environments” must be facilitated.

The structure of peer groups that encourages as much equal interaction as possible benefits individual students and the overall class itself. In other words, when a teacher lacks awareness of student diversity, students suffer.

Master of Education — Literacy Online Program at Eastern Washington University

A Master of Education in Literacy through the entirely online program at Eastern Washington University can prepare you to successfully honor diversity in the classroom. Courses like Transformation of Learning and Teaching and Critical and Social Literacies offer preparation for teaching student populations diverse in ethnicity and socio-economic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds to embrace equity and social justice. This unique program gives educators the knowledge needed to close diversity gaps.

Learn more about EWU’s online M.Ed. — Literacy program.


Pew Research: Racial, Ethnic Diversity Has Grown More Quickly Among U.S. Public School Students Than Teachers

Wave3 News: JCPS Passes Racial Equity Plan to Add Diversity to the Classroom

WRAL: NC’s Teacher Diversity Gap: ‘Where Are the Black and Brown Teachers?’

Institute of Education Sciences: Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2017

Dorchester Reporter: Now 20, Boston Collegiate Charter Hails Its Diversity, and Its Classroom Successes

ERIC: Linking Diversity and Educational Purpose: How Diversity Affects the Classroom Environment and Student Development

ERIC: Cooperative Learning and Strategies for Inclusion: Celebrating Diversity in the Classroom. Children, Youth & Change: Sociocultural Perspectives.

Lake County Gazette: Statewide Test Results: White Students Score 25.9 Points Higher at Barrington Middle School Station

ScienceDaily: White Math Teachers Treat Students Differently in Predominantly Black Schools

IZA Institute of Labor Economics: The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers

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