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Advocating for the Future PK-12 Student Today

This opinion article originally appeared in Diverse Issues in Higher Education and is reprinted with permission.

Rangasamy RamasamyThe demographics of our nation’s PK-12 student body are changing. In fact, a report from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES, 2019 as cited in Burden, 2020) projects that by 2027 the Caucasian student population will decrease to 45%, Latinx student population will increase to 29%, and the African American student population will remain at 15%. Thus, tomorrow’s student body will be more diverse than today and that trend is expected to continue. To meet the needs of the future PK-12 student population, educator preparation programs (EPPs) must attract a greater number of diverse candidates to the teaching profession—and that requires advocating for policies that promote diversity in the classroom and address critical teacher shortages.

Why advocate for diversity in the classroom? 

While the PK-12 student population diversifies, the teacher workforce remains predominately Caucasian. Today, approximately 80% of teachers in the education system are Caucasian. If NCES projections hold true, by 2027, less than 50% of students will be Caucasian, creating an imbalance in the student-to-teacher racial ratio. As minority students become the majority in schools, teacher racial/ethnic representation must also reflect this change. A mounting body of scientifically rigorous research indicates that teachers of color help close the achievement gap between Caucasian students and students of color. That is why a more diverse teaching force is critical. Teachers should understand and promote students’ interests, values, and cultural differences. For education to be effective for all students, teachers should both accept and embrace cultural differences. These differences are not deficits, but rather provide opportunities to create enriching educational experiences, preparing students for the diverse workforce they will enter upon graduation.

Why advocate for the teaching profession?

Policy changes on many levels are both critical and ever evolving. For instance, teacher shortages have been an ongoing issue, but the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated it and placed it center stage. Additionally, the profession currently is unable to prepare enough teachers to alleviate the teacher shortage. One reason for this shortage is that teachers are inadequately prepared to effectively manage student misbehavior in classrooms, so on average, half of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Another pressing issue is that teacher salaries remain low nationwide. A teacher makes approximately $47,000 a year in South Florida, while renting a three-bedroom apartment in many areas is not possible for less than $2,500 a month. How can future teachers be attracted to the profession with salaries that make it next to impossible to own a home, pay rent, or purchase necessities to sustain their families?

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grants are insufficient, and other assistance programs are depleting and don’t provide enough funding to assist diverse students to become teachers. Currently, $4,000 is offered through TEACH grants in assistance toward teacher education, which is quite simply not enough. Even while the new administration attempts to increase assistance to $8,000 to attract more people to join the teaching profession, the number of students enrolled in educator preparation programs continues to dwindle, which is a sobering reminder of the shortage we continue to face. It is, in fact, a crisis.

A call to action

As educators, we must do better for our students and the future of our society. There is no time to wait; we must act now and advocate for policies that promote a more diverse educator workforce and make the teaching profession a more desirable career. Teachers must connect with professional organizations, teacher unions, and their local officials. Local, state, and federal officials must be aware of the issues facing our students and the profession: quality teacher training, funding for educator preparation programs, teacher pay increases, and more. We must channel our collective passion for education and students, now while we can still make a difference.

Rangasamy Ramasamy is a professor in the Exceptional Student Education Department at Florida Atlantic University. 

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Rangasamy Ramasamy

Holmes Program Coordinator and Professor of Exceptional Student Education, Florida Atlantic University