Holly Yettick is a doctoral student in the Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice program at the School of Education at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
An offhand comment by an education professor at a diverse, urban university got me thinking about minority teacher recruitment. As he strolled past the department of criminal justice and criminology, this professor often noticed that the students he saw were very diverse—much more so, in fact, than those who had selected his teacher preparation program. Given the often troubled, violent and repressive relationships between law enforcement and minorities, he marveled that more minority students appeared to be choosing policing over teaching.
My knowledge of law enforcement comes largely from the Wire, Law and Order and NYPD Blue. So I had no idea whether his observation was based on an isolated anecdote or symbolic of a broader trend.
It turns out that, according to National Center for Education Statistics data, in 2008, American colleges and universities granted whites 25,359 bachelor’s degrees in “security and protective services” (the category that most closely matched criminal justice). Whites earned more than three times as many degrees (86,545) in education. By contrast, blacks actually earned 15 percent FEWER degrees in education (6,595) than in security and protective services (7,599). Hispanics earned only slightly more education degrees (3 percent or 5,436) than security and protective services degrees (5,269).
This comparison, is of course, very problematic not in the least because teachers often do not or cannot (as in Colorado) major in education. Also, the “security and protective services” category likely only partially matches up with the criminology major, which could also be classified under, say, social sciences. More importantly, according to the US Department of Justice, virtually no US police departments require a bachelor’s degree.
That said, it does appear that the professor’s casual observation contained a seed of truth. Between 1987 and 2007, the percentage of minority police officers increased from 14.6 percent to 25 percent or about 10 percentage points. Writing in The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology in 2006, University of California, Berkeley law professor David Alan Sklansky referred to the “dramatic shift in the demographics of police departments,” adding that:
“Today’s Los Angeles Police Department is not the homogeneous workplace celebrated on Dragnet—and neither is the police force of any other large American city.”
In the education realm, 17 percent of K-12 public school teachers were minorities in 2007-08, up just 4.5 percentage points since 1987-88. In contrast to the steady rise in minority police hiring, minority teacher hiring flatlined in the 80s and 90s. Mwangaza Michael-Bandele bemoaned in a 1993 ERIC Clearninghouse report the “simultaneous decline in the number of African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American teachers and increase in the number of students among these same groups of people.”
Why is this occurring? Considering my limited knowledge, I can only guess at why law enforcement is attracting greater percentages of minorities. (Discrimination-related lawsuits? The CSI effect?) Nor would I want to suggest that teaching and policing are equivalent or that they should be. (Patrol officers, after all, make more money, with median salaries of $51,410 vs. $47,100-$51,180 for K-12 teachers!) Finally, despite the successes with minority hiring, law enforcement continues to experience ongoing and well-publicized instances of racial profiling and discrimination, making it in many ways a less-than-desirable role model for schools.
This issue hits home for me. My baby brother is a biracial kid on an almost all white college campus. He is a good student and a principled person. I worry that he could be erroneously singled out by the cops because of the color of his skin.
Those caveats and concerns about law enforcement aside, when it comes to schools, our population is growing more diverse at a faster rate than our communities as a whole. About a fourth of our nation’s kindergartners are now Hispanic and “minorities” are expected to become the majority among children in the next decade and a half.
What message are we sending if the teaching force remains 80 percent white? Can we wonder that some of those with a bent for public sector jobs may be choosing policing over teaching? Additionally, achievement indicators appear to be at the very least associated with pairing minority teachers with minority students. (See, for instance, “Minority Teachers, Minority Students, and College Matriculation: A New Look at the role-modeling Hypothesis” by Rick Hess and David Leal, 1997, Policy Studies Journal.)
How can the teaching profession attract more minority teachers? Maybe it’s time for educators to play detective.
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