Key Coverage

Most Teachers Are White, Even as Schools Are More Diverse Than Ever

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Ricardo Alcalá’s parents, born in Mexico, carried less than a second-grade education when they came to California to work the fields. His older siblings dropped out of high school. One was sentenced to prison for life and killed behind bars. Ricardo was 13 then, living in poverty.

But when he was 14, something changed. A Latina teacher told him he was too smart for pre-algebra and should move up.

Now, Alcalá is a high school Spanish teacher, looking for the good in his students, most from Latino and poor families like his. He nudges boys drawn to gangs toward the wrestling team instead, and serves Mexican hot chocolate on a Monday afternoon, hoping that small treat will dissuade students from skipping class.

Not many teachers at Elsie Allen High School can connect with students in the same way. While 80 percent of students are Latino, just two of 56 teachers are — 3.5 percent.