A new report shows the gap between the demographics of students and their teachers is not unique to the Madison Metropolitan School District.
While the gulf between students and teachers of color in MMSD is wider than the state as a whole, the Wisconsin Policy Forum published a report Tuesday showing it’s a statewide problem to address. The report, “A Teacher Who Looks Like Me,” details the lack of teachers in various racial and ethnic groups and explores what the numbers look like at each of the stages in the teacher education process.
In the 2018-19 school year, which the report uses for its statistics, 30.7% of students in Wisconsin public schools were students of color, while 5.6% of teachers were people of color. Ten years earlier, those numbers were 23.6% and 4.5%, respectively.Locally, the difference is even more stark. In 2009, MMSD’s student body was 49.5% students of color, while its teaching staff was 10.2% teachers of color. In 2019, those numbers had widened to 57.8% students of color in the district compared to 13.6% of its teachers.
Follow the data. Here’s the full report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum. The complaint is that the racial makeup of the teaching staff doesn’t match that of the student body. This is true. BUT, the teacher workforce does more closely reflect the racial makeup of the population.
According to the Census Bureau, Madison is 78.4% white, 9% Asian, 6.8% Black, and a spattering of other races. In Madison, the teacher workforce at the Madison School District is 86.4% white and 13.6% other races. So the teacher workforce is slightly more white than the population, but the disparity is only 8%. There is work to do perhaps, but it is not as dire as the story tries to portray it.
Meanwhile, the student population in Madison Public Schools is only 42.2% white and 57.8% students of color.
What does this tell us? First, if we assume that the racial makeup of the student population mirrors the overall racial makeup of the population, it means that a LOT of white Madisonians are sending their kids to private or suburban schools. They are intentionally avoiding putting their kids in Madison Public Schools.
Second, it tells us that if Madison wants the racial makeup of their public school teachers to match that of the student population instead of the city’s population, then they will have to recruit nearly 60% of their teachers from less than 22% of the population. That’s a tall order. One might call it impossible without massive racial bias in recruiting and hiring practices.
I know it’s quaint, but perhaps we could educate our kids that people of all colors and genders are equal and have something to contribute. Perhaps we should teach our kids that how someone looks isn’t as important as what they do and say. As a dude, my education was provided almost exclusively by women. They didn’t look like me, but I sure did learn a lot. Would I have had a better education if the majority of my teachers were dudes like me? I seriously doubt it. When I lived as an expat as a child, almost all of my teachers were women of color and not Americans. Do I feel that I received a substandard education? Not at all. When I have had a substandard teacher, it was because they stank at their job – not because of their race, gender, or nationality.
Chasing an impossible goal of making the racial makeup of our public school teachers match that of the student population is an unattainable goal that has very little to do with actually providing a better education. It’s the content and quality of the teacher that matters far more than the teacher’s race or gender.