Male and minority teachers scarce

Record number of hires does little to boost diversity among Harford school staffs

October 30, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

A record number of new teachers hired for this year by the Harford County public school system did little to increase underrepresented ranks of male and minority teachers, an issue school systems grapple with across the nation.

Along with the first fully funded budget in the school system's history came 419 openings for new teachers for the 2005-2006 school year.

According to figures presented to the Board of Education last week, the system filled the slots with 115 men and 33 minorities - both record highs for a single year. But as board member Mark M. Wolkow observed, the figures were disproportionately low compared with the number of open positions. Minorities represented just 7 percent of the new hires, while males represented 27 percent.

"We're certainly frustrated that the results weren't better," Wolkow said last week. "We need to continue to work harder."

At both the national and state levels, education associations have identified male and minority teachers as shortage areas. A 2001 survey by the National Education Association found just two out of 10 American teachers were male, while one in 10 was a minority.

Those are troubling numbers to education advocates, who say teachers are far less diverse than the children they are instructing. About half of the nation's students are male and about 40 percent are minorities, according to government figures.

In Harford, slightly more than half of students are male, and 25 percent are minorities. The latter number has grown in recent years and represents a higher percentage than the county's overall minority population, which was 13 percent according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Observers say diversity among teachers is important for children growing up in an increasingly diverse world.

"I think when you look at society, society is very heterogenous, and children need to be around all kinds of folks," said Peg Goodson, a supervisor with the school system's human resources department.

"When children don't have role models at home they need, it becomes our obligation to provide those."

Officials said the number of minority hires was a record for the county, and said the system was undergoing a more deliberate process to recruit minorities. A trip to a predominantly black college by board member Robert B. Thomas Jr. resulted in seven new hires from that school.

Brenda Hinton, a human resources supervisor, said the system has "doubled and redoubled" its recruiting efforts toward minority teachers in recent years. Of the 77 college and university job fairs the system visited this year, 21 were to historically black colleges and universities. They visited 19 in 2004.

Goodson said the large number of openings made hiring difficult in some areas. In a highly competitive market, having more spots to fill wasn't necessarily a benefit, she said, particularly in science and mathematics.

Though male and minority figures were low, school officials said Harford has the highest retention rate in the Baltimore region. Ninety-three percent of the county's teachers were retained from last school year to this year.

Male teachers made up about one-third of the nationwide teaching force in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, but their numbers slid through the 1990s and hit a low of 21 percent in 2001. The NEA updates its report every five years.

Whites have accounted for about 90 percent of teachers nationwide for the past three decades, including in 2001. Six percent of teachers were black, a number on the decline.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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