In a keynote address at the Think BIG… Think PTA! National PTA 2016 Annual Conference, attended by over 1,000 PTA members and advocates, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King voiced the importance of having diverse schools and classrooms. He urged PTA members to “demand diversity—not just in schools but also in the classrooms within those schools,” and added that “diversity is not a nicety but a necessity. Not just for some students, but for all of our students.”
Research shows that diversity of teachers and students results in better academic and life outcomes for all students. Nearly half of today’s public school students identify as non-white, but only 18% of the teaching force identifies this way, resulting in students rarely identifying culturally and racially with their educators.
Congress is taking steps to address the lack of diversity in schools. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) will soon be introducing legislation which would offer grants to help districts create and implement strong voluntary, community-developed plans to increase socioeconomic diversity in their schools while improving student achievement.
Congress cannot tackle this issue alone. Secretary King stressed that PTAs across the country have a unique opportunity to increase diversity within schools. He pressed PTA members to find out if there is a formal outreach effort in place and if not to “start it and lead it.” He went further by stating “if your school is diverse but its PTA doesn’t reflect that diversity, take the time to get to know parents from different backgrounds. Invite them to join you.”
National PTA has a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion. To further this effort, we recently updated the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit to help PTA leaders make their PTA more welcoming and inclusive for all children and families by honoring their differences. Be sure to download it for in-depth guidance, but in the meantime, here are a few ways to embrace diversity and multiculturalism in your school community:
- Make the connection with your community and identify different audiences such as community colleges, hospitals, parks, libraries, etc.
- Distribute information to staff and families about community resources that serve the cultural, recreational, academic, health, social and other needs of families.
- Foster student participation in community service and involve community members in school volunteer programs.
- Disseminate information to the community, including those without school age children, regarding school programs and performance.
- Collaborate with community agencies to provide family support services and adult learning opportunities, enabling family involvement.
PTA members have an important obligation to ensure that diversity is prioritized in our nation’s schools and to advocate so that every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Diverse student bodies and teaching forces allow students to learn how to work productively with people whose life experiences are different from their own.
Lindsay Kubatzky is the government affairs coordinator for National PTA.