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Education Secretary to PTA: Demand Diversity in Schools, Teaching Force

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U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. called on parents to take charge of improving diversity in their schools and classrooms—both among students and teachers—during a recent speech before the National Parent Teacher Association.

The issue of student and teacher diversity has been a major issue for King since his appointment to take over the federal department in fall 2015.

In this case, King was addressing parents who make decisions about where they send their children to school at a time when there are increasing choices, both among district and charter schools. In many communities, that leads to more segregation among student bodies.

"Today, diversity is not a nicety but a necessity. Not just for some students, but for all of our students," King said.

"What I'm asking you today is to act not only in the interest of someone else's kids, but also to act boldly in the interest of your own. I'm asking you to demand diversity, not just in schools, but also in the classrooms within those schools."

The July 1 speech was at the 2016 Annual National PTA Convention & Expo, which thousands of members attended over the weekend in Orlando, Fla. Watch a video of the full speech on the U.S. Department of Education's Facebook page.

In addition to improving student diversity, King asked parents to push for changes among their schools' teaching forces. King said that while a growing majority of students are not white, only about 18 percent of teachers are nonwhite.

"This work may not be easy but it must be done. And it won't happen without an active force of parents encouraging, demanding, the kinds of diversity that genuinely benefit all of our kids," King said.

"So if your children, or your students, go through their school day without diversity as an essential part of their learning experience, ask, really ask, your school leaders why. Find out if there is an effort to increase the economic and racial diversity of your school system. If there is, find out how you can help. If there isn't, start it and lead it."

King has talked about diversity issues at other recent events, including a speech in front of the Century Foundation in April and a meeting with Boston teachers in May.

President Barack Obama's budget request also includes an emphasis on school integration, as written by Education Week's Politics K-12 bloggers.

Related story: Report Feeds Debate Over Racial, Economic Inequities

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

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