ANNAPOLIS – Caroline County hired 25 new teachers last September, but just four of them were minorities, all black. At the same time, nearly a quarter of the county’s students are minorities.
Hiring teachers who reflect the racial diversity of their populations has been a school district problem statewide, particularly given the teacher shortage, but in smaller counties with fewer amenities it’s even more difficult.
Caroline County, with 5,314 students and a Hispanic student population that’s up more than 210 percent since 1990, is just one example.
“(The percentage of teachers in Caroline) certainly doesn’t mirror our student population, and we need to do that,” said Jim Orr, Human Resources Director for the Caroline County Board of Education. “It’s very difficult to get folks to come over to the Eastern Shore.”
This is not the only Eastern Shore county in this situation. Other counties, including Wicomico and Talbot, have undergone dramatic increases in their Hispanic, Asian and American Indian youth populations, but have not been able to find teachers to mirror their growing ethnic make-ups.
Wicomico County has seen a 254.19 percent increase in its Hispanic youth population since 1990, according to the 2000 Census. Talbot County experienced the greatest percentage increase in the state in two under-18 ethnic categories: American Indian/Native Alaskan and Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.
Wicomico County has had some recent success recruiting more black teachers, but has not had such luck finding Hispanics for the job.
“They just don’t seem to be out there,” said Thomas Field, Wicomico County superintendent for instruction and curriculum.
Minority populations are also rising statewide.
Hispanic students statewide comprise a much greater share of the overall population, from 2.1 percent in 1989 to 4.4 percent in 1999, and black student populations went from 32.7 percent of students to 36.8 percent. At the same time, schools have actually become more white, with Caucasian student populations growing from 54.3 percent of all students to 61.7 percent in the 10- year period.
During the same time period, the percentage of black teachers statewide slid from 20.8 percent to 20.4 percent in 1999-2000.
School districts statewide are making an effort to attract minority teachers. Teachers who are neither black nor white comprised 1.2 percent of all Maryland teachers in the 1989-1990 school year, and they now make up 2.3 percent. Yet that number still does not reflect the greater percentages of minority students in the state.
The need for diverse teachers is obvious: “Our society is diverse, our schools are diverse and our teaching population ought to be diverse,” said Ron Peiffer, assistant superintendent for Maryland schools.
“It’s important for students to have teachers standing up in front of their classes that look like them,” he said.
Children need diverse teachers as role models, said Edna Szymanski, College of Education dean at the University of Maryland.
“Children early on form ideas of what’s possible for themselves,” and if they do not see prestigious figures around them who look like them, their career development suffers, she said.
A shortage of all teachers in Maryland is projected to reach an all-time high in 2003. In 2003-2004, Maryland will need to hire 12,715 teachers, nearly three times the 4,588 hired in 1996-1997.
Compounding the minority hiring problem is that many industries heavily recruit ethnic and racial minorities, and the teaching profession is challenging and pays little, Peiffer said.
Another part of the problem builds on the state’s difficulty in producing teachers in general.
Last year, the percent of minority college graduates in the state who got teaching degrees was only 17 percent, down 1.4 percent from 1998-99, according to state education statistics.
Another difficulty in getting minorities to teach stems from the fact that there is such a great minority achievement gap in the state, Szymanski said.
“Kids who are African-American and Latino are not achieving at the same rate as their peers in school,” she said. “These are two competing interests until you can improve minority achievement . . . The first thing that’s important is having a competent teacher.”
Caroline County is making strong efforts to fight these statistics and find a greater number of minority teachers.
At the end of this month, the county will hold its fifth annual Minority Teacher Recruitment Fair, at which they expect representation from 35 colleges in seven different states, Orr said. Teachers who come to the event receive a stipend, he said.
This year, the county also is offering a $1,000 signing bonus to any minority teacher who signs with the school system.
Other counties, too, have intensified efforts to find qualified minority teachers, but are stymied by the lack of applicants.
“If we knew what the answer was in recruiting more minority teachers, we would certainly be doing it,” said Bryon Johnston, Talbot County school spokesman.
But, he said, referring to the general teacher shortage: “It’s hard to recruit from what isn’t there.”