NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — From math to science, learning can present its share of challenges in the classroom, but does the lack of a diverse teaching staff create even great obstacles for children of color?

Despite efforts to hire more teachers of color, Connecticut is slipping further behind as the student population rapidly diversifies. Overall, the population of teachers of color is about 11%, while more than 50% of students are non-white.

"An F. Among the worst in the country," Dr. Steve Perry said. "Four percent of the teachers in the state of Connecticut are Black, and that, quite frankly, is by design."

Perry knows about educating students. His schools in Connecticut and New York, Capital Preparatory Magnet School, have been cited as one of the top schools in the country.  

Since 2006, 100% of the schools' predominantly low-income minority high school students have reportedly graduated to four-year colleges every year.

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"We see a profound impact on the children's ability to learn," Perry said. "In fact, a 40% increase in the likelihood of a Black child going to college just because by having one Black teacher in 12 years in school."

Kayla Walker is an administrator at East Hartford High School.

"There are certain things that happen within our culture that if you don't understand, you are quick to judge and condemn, whether it's how they dress, how they speak," Walker said.

Walker hopes positive affirmations on her office walls and her presence as a woman of color will help students become the best version of themselves.

"When they see how my hair is, they're like, 'hey, I like your hair.' I think it really matters," Walker said.

Here is a look at school districts in Connecticut representing the widest diversity gaps for the 2021-22 school year:

  • Waterbury: 16% of teachers of color compared to 87.13% of students of color
  • New Haven: 28% of teachers of color compared to 89% of students of color
  • East Hartford: 12.05% of teachers of color compared to 89.74% of students of color
  • Hamden: 11.92% of teachers of color compared to 69.02% of students of color
  • West Haven: 6.83% of teachers of color compared to 72.27% of students of color

So, what can be done to get diversity in the classrooms?

"Quite a number of things," Perry said. "One of them is we can create an apprenticeship model, whereby an individual becomes a teacher in training but is allowed to come into the classroom and proves themselves under a master teacher. Connecticut has something like this already called TEAM. It's already in place, but it's not seen as a method of certification. It's seen as part of the certification process."

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It's a process that Perry calls Draconian, archaic, and counter-intuitive.

"There are a number of certification processes that in many ways limit access to African Americans to become teachers," Perry said.

Da'John Jett is a 6th-grade teacher at Augusta Lewis Troupe School in New Haven. He agrees the exam is outdated and should be changed.

"I always say the easy part is going to school," Jett said." So, you can get through that. You can beat those odds. The next part is the certification exams. I think I spent on my certification exams probably over $1,500 having to retake tests."

District administrators in New Haven say they are aware of the problem and have committed to breaking down the walls preventing some teachers from entering the classroom.

"Some of the things we've been doing is working with our local universities to provide options for people where they can work full time and also go and pursue their certification," said Sarah Diggs, coordinator of recruitment and retention in New Haven.

That's not only important for teachers, Diggs says, but also for students of color.

"We are deeply committed to what research tells us, which is students benefit from teachers who look like them," Diggs said.

"I would argue that it is equally important for white children to learn from Black people as it is for African Americans," Dr. Perry said. "If you think you're the only people who are smart, if you think you are the only ones who have a creative thought, if you think that you're the only one who can deconstruct information, then you are explicitly learning internalized racism. It's not even your fault."