Ark. struggling to increase number of minority teachers

Lack of minorities at the front of the classroom is nothing new for the state. Despite all of the incentives and financial assistance offered to potential teachers there are still major challenges slowing down the progress.

"It's been an ongoing initiative in our state. This is something that we are constantly trying to improve upon," said Camille Sterrett, Teacher Recruitment and Retention Program Advisor for the Arkansas Department of Education.

Increasing the diversity in Arkansas classrooms is not a new challenge to the state. But it's one the department has been trying to address for years now and for good reason.

"Statistically or according to research that it helps narrow the achievement gap and so that just would be a major step or advancement for our state," said Sterrett.

Across the country, minorities make up 40 percent of classrooms but only 16 percent of teachers. Minority teachers are needed in every district of Arkansas.

"It's not where we need to be but's it's really improving in our state," said Sterrett.

And although there are many reasons behind the low numbers, the Praxis test, a teaching certification test, is considered one of the biggest road blocks for minorities.

"We always have a certain number of students every year that do not graduate because they have trouble passing this test," said Pamela Cicerllo, Dean of Allied Health and Human Services at Pulaski Technical College.

According to a study done by the National Education Association, minorities score significantly lower than their white counterparts. Cicirello says it's weeding out people that could be great educators.

"There's a lot of students that never make it into the college of education they could be really good teachers," she said.

So regardless of whatever scholarship, grant or loan forgiveness program or incentive the state offers, Sterrett says more work needs to be done to help students get certified first.

"More and more we're just encouraging our institutions of higher education to try and continue to prepare students to take those tests," Sterrett said.

The Little Rock School District recently presented their initiative to address the minority shortage in their schools.