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The Effort to Diversify Virginia's Teachers

The vast majority of teachers in Virginia are white, a cause of concern for some who say more diversity is needed in the classroom.

Fewer than half of Virginia’s public schoolchildren are white. But more than 75% of teachers are white.

That’s a disparity that worries Taikein Cooper, executive director at Virginia Excels. He says he hears about the problems with cultural competency all the time in Richmond, like one student who told him he couldn’t do his homework. 

“And so the teacher was like, ‘Oh, why don’t you just go home and do it on your laptop?’ And then he had to tell her, ‘Hey we are living in poverty, we’re living paycheck to paycheck. We don’t have internet at my home,’” says Cooper.

Chris Duncombe at the Commonwealth Institute says teacher pay in Virginia creates a challenge for attracting a diverse group of new teachers into the profession. 

“We don’t want to necessarily track young chidden of color into professions that are not financially rewarding," Holcome explains. "And right now Virginia’s average teacher salaries are 12% below the national average.”

He says one potential solution is to strengthen teacher-preparation programs at historically black colleges and universities. Several of these are already up and running in Virginia, offering mentorship and financial assistance to a diverse set of students who want a job in the classroom.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.
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