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MoCo teaching diversity questioned by state

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Published on: Thursday, May 16, 2013

By Yagana Shah

WASHINGTON - Mike Williams recalls having only one, black, male teacher during his K-12 education in Montgomery County.

“I felt a bit isolated. That’s coming from me, and I was fairly popular. I was an athlete,” said Williams, 43, now a social studies teacher at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

He is among the 3.7 percent of black, male teachers in Maryland Public Schools teaching a student body that is nearly 18 percent black and male.

The state continues to recruit a teaching corps to try to accurately reflect its student population because experts say it's good for students to be taught by a diverse faculty. Maryland has managed to boost Asian and Hispanic representation in its teaching corps over the past decade, but still has seen a fall in the representation of black teachers.

“There’s been a conscious effort. We want our teaching population to reflect our student population. Now that’s a very lofty goal,” said Jeff Martinez, director of staffing at Montgomery County Public Schools.

The percentage of black teachers in Maryland Public Schools has dropped more than 4.5 points to 16.57 percent over the past decade, while the percentage of Asian and Hispanic teachers has grown relatively sharply along with their respective student populations, according to a Capital News Service analysis.

The percentage of Asian students has grown 1.1 percentage points, from 4.85 percent in 2003. The percentage of Hispanic students has grown even more sharply -- more than doubling from 6.39 percent in 2003 to 12.86 percent for the current school year. (The Maryland State Department of Education added Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and two or more races as self-reporting categories in 2010, which may contribute to a small degree of variation.)

Diversity in the teaching corps is critical in many ways, education experts say.

“When we look at this particular issue, not only in the state of Maryland but across the country, one of the things we have to understand is that the picture for students of who is in front of the classroom sends a very important message about what they can be when they grow up,” said Chance Lewis, professor of urban education at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who has authored several books on diversity in education.

That message is one that Williams said he received growing up and stayed with him until he got to college.   

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