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Less than 7 Percent Of Missouri Teachers Are Minorities, And Other Facts You Need To Know

They may not be shocking but the numbers are still illuminating. 

In Kansas City Public Schools, 19 percent of teachers are in their first year on the job. And 17 percent do not have the correct certification. These are the highest proportions of any district in the state. That's according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education. 

Across Missouri, there is a consistent gap in teacher quality (as measured by experience levels and qualifications) between affluent, suburban schools and their counterparts in urban and rural areas. Kansas City may just be the most glaring example of this trend. 

"We have to begin painting a different picture of the profession," says Paul Katnik, who is part of a DESE team that has been crafting a "comprehensive" plan over the past year to recruit good teachers to underserved areas in the state and keep them in the classroom. 

"We need high quality people, diverse people, people who can teach physics, chemistry and math. People who want to teach in the Bootheel and people who want to teach in urban schools."

Missouri's plan is part of a federal initiative that attempts to ensure every student has access to an effective, qualified teacher. Missouri was one of four states and two large school districts to make "model" plans for the U.S. Department of Education late last year. Now, all 50 states have been asked to submit plans this summer. 

Katnik says federal officials looked over Missouri's drafted plan in July and sent feedback. He says he and his colleagues have worked more on the plan and re-submitted it. 

"We haven't launched any parts of it yet because we're waiting, but we hope to do so soon." 

Policy prescriptions are vague at this point. However, Katnik noted an urgent need to recruit more minorities into teaching. Currently, less than 7 percent of Missouri's nearly 70,000 teachers are minorities. He says recruitment could potentially begin in high school. 

"Teaching is often the only profession that most kids have a fully formed opinion about when they graduate," he says. "And we have to re-frame their perception of the job. This is something you can do and be a part of your community."

Educators encourage these types of efforts but also say the problems are more systemic. 

"You look at urban and rural schools and the kids coming from those regions aren't really going back to there in great numbers," says Todd Fuller, of the Missouri State Teachers Association. 

He says urban and rural schools have too often been "training grounds" for teachers before they move on to more affluent suburban schools. 

Fuller says he supports DESE's efforts whatever they eventually turn out to be in recruiting the right people into teaching and then supporting them once they are in the classroom. He says the problem is urgent. 

"It's what, one or two weeks into the year," he says. "We're already getting calls from first-year teachers who say they are overwhelmed."

The MSTA is trying to hook those fumbling first-year teachers up with mentors in their subject areas and grade levels but acknowledges their efforts right now are a "drop in the bucket". 

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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