Regent schools hope to improve Iowa’s teacher diversity

BY SAM LANE | DECEMBER 09, 2010 7:10 AM

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Iowa’s schools have a diversity problem.

During the 2008-09 school year, only 2 percent of Iowa’s public-school teachers were minorities, and the minority population in the state was nearly 18 percent. In the 2003-04 school year, nearly 17 percent of teachers nationwide were minorities, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Local numbers are only slightly better.

Only 3.4 percent of Iowa City School District’s more than 900 teachers are minorities, according to Jim Pedersen, the director of human resources for the district. The student minority population is 32 percent.

Pedersen said the district holds a 6 percent hiring goal for minority teachers. It’s set to reflect the diversity in the district, he said.

“Our goal is to interview one quality minority [applicant] for each position,” he said, but sometimes, the district doesn’t receive enough applications from minorities. “All things being equal in terms of the quality of the applicant, we’ll hire a minority.”

In response to the lack of diversity — and recent legislation — officials from a variety of educational offices across the state created a report on ways to recruit minority teachers. The legislation requested information about how to recruit minorities into teaching, into teacher preparation programs at Iowa universities, and into careers as school leaders throughout the state, according to the report.

The committee’s report will be presented to the state Board of Regents today and, if approved, a final draft will be submitted to the Legislature in January.

The results show what many officials suspected.

“There’s a high need to increase minority teachers and minority administrators,” said Susan Lagos Lavenz, the associate dean for teacher education and student services in the UI College of Education. Lagos Lavenz also served on the committee that compiled the report. “That’s the message; it’s a high priority.”

She said a sense of community and a sense of belonging to a group are the most important points when trying to recruit minority teachers.

Of the more than 350 students in Lagos Lavenz’s program this fall, only 23 students self-identified as minorities, according to data from the Registrar’s Office.

Those on the committee surveyed more than 390 individuals involved in Iowa education, including principals, superintendents, experienced minority teachers, and faculty in Iowa’s teacher-preparation programs.

Overall, some of the most important items for those surveyed were a proximity to family, compensation, and direct recruitment by faculty in preparation programs.

Regent Robert Downer said diversity in Iowa’s schools is “important from a variety of standpoints.”

“I think that [diversity] just makes Iowa a more welcoming environment to all,” he said. “We don’t have quite the sameness to the state it’s been known for in the past.”

Downer said he expects the regents to approve the report.

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