LOS ANGELES (CBS) — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan teamed up with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other local officials on Friday to push for the recruitment of more minority teachers in Los Angeles, saying minority students often respond better to them.

“I believe education is the civil rights issue of our generation, and if you care about promoting opportunity and reducing inequality, the classroom is the place to start,” Duncan said during a roundtable discussion at the Roybal Learning Center in downtown Los Angeles.

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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said “it’s no secret” that students respond better to those who share similar ethnic backgrounds.

“We need to show kids that teaching is an honorable and challenging but ultimately very rewarding profession,” Villaraigosa said. “Minority teacher recruitment is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty in our low-income minority communities.”

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72 percent of the pupils in the Los Angeles Unified School District are Latino, but Latinos represent only 32 percent of its teaching staff.

The U.S. Education Department’s TEACH campaign aims to increase the number and diversity of people seeking to become teachers, and encourages minorities to pursue careers in the classroom.

Also on the panel today were Grammy Award-winning singer John Legend and boxer Oscar de la Hoya, who are actively involved in education reform issues.

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