MADISON (WKOW) -- While the percentage of Wisconsin students who are of color has grown over the past decade, the rate of teacher diversity has not kept up according to a report released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
Citing data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction between 2009 and 2019, the report found the percentage of Wisconsin students who are of color increased from 23.6 percent to 30.7 percent. During that same period, the percentage of Wisconsin teachers who are of color increased from 4.5 percent to 5.6 percent.
"These gaps exist all over the state and in all kinds of communities," said Anne Chapman, a senior researcher at the Wisconsin Policy Forum who authored the report.
The report found among African-Americans, Black students are 9 percent of the state's pupils while Black teachers are 2.1 percent of the state's educators. For Hispanics, the disparity is 12 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
"All of the research currently shows all students benefit from having teachers of color but particularly students of color benefit the most from having role models that look like them," Natasha Sullivan, who teaches English at La Follette High School in Madison.
Sullivan, who is of Mexican descent, said she believes her background allows her to connect easily with some students of color. Both she and Chapman added that research has found having diverse teachers also benefits white students.
"They should see teachers are in positions of authority and responsibility and leadership from all different race and ethnic backgrounds," Chapman said.
Chapman added that, for students of color, research showed those who had exposure to teachers of color during their K-12 years showed better results in terms of high school graduation rate, interest in pursuing higher education and had lower rates of discipline.
The study also found the student/teacher diversity gap growing consistently among urban, suburban, township and rural school districts.
"And they're growing at a faster rate (in non-urban schools) than the gaps in the cities," Chapman said.
Sullivan said she's glad the report highlighted the issue but added the most important issue now is ensuring it leads to action.
"The first step is identifying the program and now really putting in the work to start making changes that will make the situation better," Sullivan said.
Chapman said Monday's report is the first in a multi-part series. She said Monday's report aims to highlight the problem while she's currently researching best practices that have worked in other parts of the country.
In Janesville, the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin has funded the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship. The fund aims to encourage current Janesville high school students to pursue a career in teaching and to do so in their hometown. The scholarship requires recipients to apply for a job in the Janesville district, and if hired, must teach at least three years in Janesville after completing their education.
Chapman said the program is similar to other "grow your own" programs she's found across the country. She said another potential remedy is grooming educational assistants or paraprofessionals to become teachers with alternative forms of certification. In those cases, Chapman said there are district employees who may not have a bachelor's degree but have a valuable understanding for the school and also may have a rapport with students.
"That is a group of people that work in the schools, that already, in a certain way, have exposure to students and are in a leadership role and it's a much more diverse group of people," Chapman said.