Education

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is visiting Louisville today to meet with local education leaders and to discuss methods for improving student achievement.

Duncan will highlight issues related to college- and career-readiness and early learning.

He also took some time to share his thoughts with WFPL on minority teacher hiring in public schools and on how immigration will play a role in Jefferson County Public Schools and across the nation.

Listen below:

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Here are some takeaways from the conversation:

The Need For Minority Teachers

As WFPL has previously reported, Jefferson County Public Schools is struggling to develop a teaching staff that mirrors the diversity of its student body.

Minorities make up just about 16 percent of the school system’s current teaching staff—a rate that has remained the same since 2008, according to information provided by the district.

But 52 percent of JCPS students are minorities.

Duncan said the question of how to get more minority teachers in public schools is “a really important” one to ask.

“The most important thing we can do is have a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school, but we just want those teachers to reflect the great diversity of nation’s students,” he said.

Arne Duncan speaks with Fern Creek High School teacher Brent Peters.Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

Arne Duncan speaks with Fern Creek High School teacher Brent Peters.

Duncan said there are three strategies that have been successful in boosting the number of minority teachers in public schools.

For starters, Duncan said colleges need to be challenged to “diversify the students coming in” to teacher training programs.

“Challenging them to actively recruit,” he said.

Another method that he calls “grow your own” have been effective around the nation for getting more minority teachers in schools.

This method calls for education leaders to seek prospective teachers within a community who may be close to obtaining the needed credentials, and then assisting them in finalizing the process.

“These are people from the community,” he said.

Also, alternative certification programs, like Teach For America or Troops to Teachers, are effective in producing diverse teaching staffs in schools across the country, he said.

“Those are all ways to really take this issue on and make some real progress, not just admire the problem,” Duncan said. “It takes real effort, it’s not going to happen just thinking about it, you have to put some work into it.”

He said diverse school faculties are “in everyone’s best interest.”

“Not just racial and ethnic diversity,” he said. “We need more men.”

The Challenging Opportunity of Immigrant Students

As WFPL previously reported, JCPS is seeking a waiver from the state education department that would allow immigrant students’ test scores to be left out of individual schools’ results (but not the school system as a whole).

When it comes to helping immigrant students, Duncan stressed the importance of understanding that not all immigrant students are coming from the same background. Some, he said, need more resources than others.

“Some are coming here with fantastic backgrounds in education, some have candidly have little to no formal education and are coming from war-torn countries,” he said.

Duncan said schools and communities need to work together to ensure that all immigrant students and their families have the resources they need.

“And feel wanted, and feel valued and feel supported and see education as a pathway to a better life,” he said. “I can’t overstate how important that is.”

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.