Study after national study says the same thing: There is a marked lack of diversity in America’s teacher workforce.

The same holds true in the Walla Walla Valley. Most educators working here are white and don’t mirror the growing numbers of Hispanic and other nonwhite students, Walla Walla University officials said.

To help address the problem, the college has planted a seed for future crops of teachers, said Debbie Muthersbaugh, a professor of education and director of the university’s new Center for Educational Equity and Diversity.

After two years of laying groundwork, the center was established this spring, nourished by a $5,000 Washington state grant and $4,000 from WWU, said Muthersbaugh. It is one of few such centers in the nation, according to research by her staff.

“We wanted to do two things: increase a diverse enrollment in our teacher programs and provide professional development opportunities,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Education took a deep dive into the problem, publishing its findings in July 2016. Its research found that 82 percent of teachers in public elementary and high school grades are white, even as student diversity rises across the country.

Race is not the only classroom component needing attention, Muthersbaugh said. Students in elementary and high school grades need to see more men, more women teaching math, technology, engineering and science courses, and more special education teachers.

The center’s role is to increase research efforts, implement best practices in teacher-student interactions, bring outside experts to the campus and recruit a wider range of ethnicity in WWU’s educator pipeline.

The center will also analyze local, regional and national data on the issue and publish the findings in an online journal, said Muthersbaugh.  

The support the center can offer education students can make a difference in who stays the course.

The Brookings Institution — a research group specializing in social science, economics and other fields — reported in 2016 that creating a diverse education workforce goes beyond hiring strategies.

Addressing the gaps requires a broad, long-term strategy, it said.

To achieve a national teacher workforce as diverse as the students it serves means studying several areas, according to the report.

Among those are college attendance and completion; who is majoring in education or another teacher-preparation pathway; who hires into a teaching position; and who stays for more than a year.

“Those from nonwhite backgrounds tend to be first-generation college students. They often don’t have the support or just the know-how to get through college,” Muthersbaugh said, adding that can mean those students don’t graduate on time.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.