The Center for American Progress' most recent statistics show 48 percent of the students in public schools are nonwhite — 23 percent Hispanic, 16 percent black and 5 percent Asian — and that percentage is expected to continue to increase.
"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.
Hispanics have passed blacks as the largest minority group of teachers, just as there are more Hispanic students than African-Americans in the public school system. This tracks with the increases in the number of Hispanics in the United States, with Latinos the largest minority group in the country and the fastest-growing.
Jan Alderson, a science teacher at Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland Park, Kansas, saw the changes at her school.
"We have very few teachers of minority background yet we've gone to about 40 percent minority population," said Alderson, who was inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame this past week. "It's a beautiful blending, it's just teachers who don't have that cultural background, I think just that there are more issues."
Teaching used be one of the only professions African-American college graduates could aspire to and make decent money, said LaRuth Gray, scholar-in-residence at the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University.
But as the county integrated and other professions opened their ranks, education lost its "cachet" and fewer African-American students thought about becoming teachers, she said.
"It's not seen as the ideal careers to have, and so therefore our youngsters, our black children tend to move in other directions," said Gray, who also serves as a government liaison for the National Alliance of Black School Educators.
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.