In a kindergarten classroom in Akron, students eagerly raise their hands as Chelsea Griffin, a recent Kent State University graduate, leads a lesson on her last day of student teaching.
The kids want to be first in everything. And they want to please their teacher.
Griffin, 23, likes to think that she once shared her students’ carefree outlook on life.
She grew up in a supportive middle class family with great friends and teachers. But she first noticed around third grade that her race set her apart.
Her chances of confiding in a teacher who also identified as multiracial were slim. In 2006, only 20 multiracial teachers worked in Ohio’s public schools, according to state data.
In the predominantly white suburb where Griffin grew up, 136 of the 137 teachers remain white.
Griffin admits to internalizing bits of her sometimes confusing search for racial identity. The experience wasn’t all negative, she added, but she figures a few students or, at the least, a single teacher who looked like her might have given her more comfort and confidence.
“You know when you wake up that you’re black. When you’re the minority, you feel like you’re constantly reminded of that,” Griffin said. “And going to not as much of a diverse school, I think you’re reminded of that more. And so that may have been something that I struggled with — not feeling like part of the whole culture of the school.”
As a minority student and part of a more diverse future in America, Griffin’s formal education underscores the racial disparity between black and brown students and their markedly white teachers.
The racial gap between teachers and students is evident even in the most ethnically diverse communities. And its getting wider in Ohio.
Whites have retained roughly 94 percent of teaching jobs since 2006 despite there being 127,116 fewer white students. Meanwhile, schools and colleges struggle to recruit and hire minority teachers to match Ohio’s soaring minority student populations.
Because the racial composition of teachers has not kept pace with student diversity, Ohio’s minority students have become statistically less likely to be taught by a teacher who looks like them.
As a multiracial student with a desire to join the fraction of Ohio teachers who are not white, Griffin is a minority among minorities and a hopeful solution to bridging the racial divide.
And she knows the implications of ignoring such trends.
“It’s important for students to see students who look like them, to have positive role models who look like them and to encourage them,” she said.
Ohio more white, for now
Fueled by decades of soaring birthrates among immigrants and Hispanics, America reached a milestone in 2013 when white students lost their majority status, at least in younger grades.
Ohio, however, is exceptionally white.
In the Buckeye State and about a dozen others, kindergarten classrooms remain two-thirds or more white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The nation essentially has reached a racial tipping point decades ahead of Ohio.
By examining the racial makeup of today’s elementary students and assuming that birthrates and population trends remain constant, the Beacon Journal calculates that Ohio could see the first majority-minority kindergarten class by 2050.
By looking not so far into the future, it becomes clear that Hispanic and multiracial births, coupled with a white population decline in rural and suburban communities, are driving the demographic shift.
The class of 2024 — and those who graduate in the following three years — will be 51 percent more Hispanic, 32 percent more multiracial, 5 percent more Asian, 4 percent more black and 11 percent less white.
In a decade, Ohio high schools will include 9,622 more Hispanic students, 6,108 more multiracial students, 3,251 more black students, 473 more Asian students — and a whopping 44,929 fewer white students.
Communities that experience any level of diversification will do so at varying rates.
Some, as they have in the past, could remain majority white for much longer.
Take Norton, which more than doubled its minority student population in the past eight years.
Last year, 176 minority students attended Norton, which — like 40 percent of Ohio’s school districts and 25 percent of its charter schools — employed no full-time minority teacher.
It’s been that way for a while.
Teachers in Norton, Manchester and Woodridge are just as white as they were eight years ago, while Akron, Copley-Fairlawn, Tallmadge and Twinsburg teachers have become more white as a group. Cuyahoga Falls teachers diversified the most (94.4 percent of the Falls’ teachers were white in 2014, down from 99 percent in 2006).
Diversity’s hot spots
School districts in or near large cities will lead the student diversity shift as young children there are markedly more diverse than their older counterparts.
It’s already begun. Since 2006, the largest increases in minority student populations in Summit County occurred in Woodridge, Cuyahoga Falls, Twinsburg, Nordonia Hills, Tallmadge and Akron.
Akron, among Ohio’s eight largest and most urban school districts, is driving diversity across the state, largely due to high birthrates among interracial couples.
As more diverse elementary students become more diverse high school students in the next decade, Ohio’s Urban 8 schools will see the portion of their multiracial students grow nearly five times faster than schools beyond their city limits.
Meanwhile, the white student population should grow 45 percent in these eight cities and shrink 13 percent everywhere else, dropping 11 percent statewide.
The surge in whites and especially multiracial and Hispanic students will drive up city high school populations 21 percent. Enrollment outside these cities, however, will fall 8 percent, dragging down Ohio’s total student population by 5 percent.
Teachers of yesterday
Ethnic diversity is happening faster among students than teachers.
And because some student minority groups, as opposed to teachers of the same race, have exploded in the past eight years, the likelihood that an Asian, black or Hispanic student will be taught by an Asian, black or Hispanic teacher has diminished.
The gap between minority teacher and student has widened the most for Hispanic students. In 2006, there were 67 times more Hispanic students than Hispanic teachers in Ohio. Last year, there were 116 times more.
Black and multiracial students also have less of a chance, statistically speaking, of being taught by a teacher of similar race.
Last year, there were 58 black students (enough to fill three classrooms) for every black teacher. And 697 multiracial students (enough to fill most school buildings) for every multiracial teacher.
Though multiracial teachers have grown faster than any other subgroup, the gap between multiracial teachers and students remains the largest.
Meanwhile, chances for white students to find themselves before white teachers have improved. In 2006, there were 13 white students for every white teacher. Last year, there were 12.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.