Few minorities choosing to teach in Oklahoma

Friday, November 26th 2004, 5:02 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A disparity of nearly 30% exists between the racial makeup of students in Oklahoma classrooms and those who teach them.

Nearly 91% of the state's teaching force is white, compared with only 61.5% of the students, according to statistics from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

``Minorities have lots of opportunities today in the job market,'' State Superintendent Sandy Garrett said. ``Some of them are not choosing education. Our pay has been so low in Oklahoma that many are not attracted to the pay scale.''

The problem is not limited to Oklahoma.

According to a 2003 report by the Southern Regional Education Board, the percentage of minority teachers is not increasing as fast as the percentage of minority students.

The Atlanta-based group studied minority enrollment and teachers in its region, finding that in many of its states, the workforce has become less diverse.

``Of the 12 states for which comparable data are available, seven (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina) have seen a decrease since the late 1980s in the percentage of minority teachers,'' the report states.

``One (Virginia) has held steady and four (Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas) have experienced an increase. Among the four states in which the percentage of minority teachers increased, Oklahoma had the greatest gain.''

Oklahoma in 1989 had 7% of its teachers classified as minorities, a figure which rose to 14% in 2000, the report notes.

Minority teachers graduating from Oklahoma colleges and universities are quickly lured to other states, said Kyle Dahlem, director of the Minority Teacher Recruitment Center and Teacher Education for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

``Overall admissions into teacher education programs in Oklahoma dropped by 43 percent between 1996 and 2001,'' according to the Southern Regional Education Board report. ``While admissions of Native American students increased slightly over this period, admissions of most other minorities declined.''

Budget cuts in the last few years coupled with federal mandates have forced some school districts to drop programs to foster more minority teachers, Dahlem said.

Another problem is that many minority students are not graduating or are not going to college if they do graduate, Dahlem said.

The State Regents for Higher Education are working with common education officials to make sure early on that students at the elementary and secondary levels are prepared for college, she said.

While officials say they want more minority teachers, the lack of them in classrooms doesn't necessarily equate to shortchanging students.

``Yes, we want more minority teachers,'' Dahlem said. ``We feel that is in the best interest of the student. We have had minority students be very successful in school and accomplished and they have never had anything but Caucasian teachers. But, we want to do a better job.''