For years, educators and experts have sounded the alarm: We need more minority men at the front of the classroom.

And yet black and Hispanic male teachers are in short supply, even as America’s minority populations continue to grow.

In a profession that is overwhelmingly female, black males make up just 7.7 percent of the nation’s male public school teachers, according to a 2003-04 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Hispanic males came in at 5.9 percent.

How is Chicago doing? Depends on how you look at it.

As of July, black males accounted for 24.15 percent of male CPS teachers, but just 5.1 percent of the system’s 24,916 teachers, based on data provided by Chicago Public Schools.

In contrast, nearly half of CPS students are African-American, with an even split between males and females.

Hispanic men make up 14.42 percent of CPS’s male teachers, which is 3.05 percent of the total teaching force.

“Of course, the numbers reflect what we all know: The face of education is predominantly Caucasian,” said Dameka Redic, program manager for the CPS student teaching program. “The students need to see a reflection of themselves in front of the classroom.”

Experts attribute the racial/gender disparity to several factors, principally the low pay and lack of prestige associated with teaching.

The societal expectation that men provide for their families may push some toward more lucrative careers, such as business administration, said Wesley Boykin, an educational consultant who sits on the board of directors for the National Alliance of Black School Educators in Washington, D.C.

Boykin said black and Latino male teachers can play a pivotal role in mentoring young minorities, but the positive influence can also come from others in the school, from the principal to the custodian.

“Having those male role models makes a big difference socially,” Boykin said.

He added that parents may feel more comfortable when the student shares the teacher’s racial background. Some schools have responded to the shortage with recruitment programs targeting minority males.

In South Carolina, Call Me MISTER -Men Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models – offers tuition assistance to black men studying education at selected universities in the state.

Locally, Redic identified Chicago State University, National Louis University and Eastern Illinois University as schools that CPS targets for a diverse pool of candidates for the student teaching program.

“We do aggressively try to work with those universities that do have a higher number of minority candidates that we can funnel into the district,” she said.

In spring 2007, Redic said the student teaching program had 1,090 student teachers; 112 were African-American and 143 were Hispanic.

She said progress has been made, but a disconnect exists between community school systems and universities.

“The pool of individuals is created by the universities,” Redic explained, “so I think we need to work together better, even before [students] declare education as their major.”