In new studies performed by the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association, it has been discovered that while almost half of U.S. public school students are nonwhite, fewer than 20% of their teachers are minorities.

The "diversity gap" that the NEA and CAP point to is a result of the growing population of nonwhite students in American public schools.

"We project that this fall, for the first time in American history, the majority of public school students in America will be nonwhite," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week.

In 1993, the percentage of minority students in public schools was 31%, while in 2003 the percentage had risen to 41%.

The teacher population, on the other hand, is weighted with white teachers. Of about 3.3 million elementary and secondary teachers, an overwhelming 82 percent were white, while only "8 percent were Hispanic, 7 percent were black and about 2 percent were Asian."

Education professionals recognize the need for the gap to be closed. Kevin Gilbert, a member of NEA's executive committee, told the Associated Press: "Nothing can help motivate our students more than to see success standing right in front of them."

But increasing teacher diversity wouldn't only potentially motivate minority students. As Ulrich Boser, the author of the CAP study, notes: ". . . It's important for our social fabric, for our sense as a nation, that students are engaging with people who think, talk and act differently than them but can also be just as effective at raising student achievement in the classroom."

It will take political will to change those numbers, advocates say. Most states already have programs and policies intended to increase the number of minority teachers, "but the yield of new teachers of color is disappointing," the NEA report said.

[Image via AP]