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Growing teacher shortages: opportunity for increasing diversity

Recruiting, training and placing diverse, talented teachers is a necessary long-term investment from which we will reap benefits for years to come.

Minnesota legislators have kicked off the 2016 legislative session, primed to utilize the $960 million budget surplus and short session to debate solutions to the most pressing issues in our state. One that is on our minds, as well as Gov. Mark Dayton’s, is the growing shortage of teachers – not just in rural communities, but also even in suburban and urban centers.

Madaline Edison

Minnesota’s most recent “Teacher Supply and Demand” report [PDF] from the state shows that during 2013-14, districts across the state had to hire 3,504 teachers who lacked the necessary licenses for the subjects and the grade levels taught. This is particularly true for positions serving our highest-need students, such as special education and English-as-a-second-language students. Other high-need subject areas included Spanish, science, technology and math.

Testifying before the Senate Education Committee recently, Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, noted that the shortage now includes elementary teachers, saying, “This is the worst I’ve heard from my superintendents in the state.”

Solving two issues at once

Photo by Ann Marsden
Bernadeia Johnson

Minnesota legislators have an excellent opportunity to act, not only to address our growing teacher shortages, but to do so in a strategic way that will allow our state to make progress toward solving another longstanding issue that has historically been met with less urgency: the lack of teachers of color to reflect the current and growing diversity of Minnesota’s student population.

Currently, 96 percent of Minnesota’s teachers are white, while 30 percent of the student population are students of color (and growing each year). We know this diversity gap matters to our students and their achievement for a variety of reasons – from our personal experience, we know how important it is that students of color and white students see role models in their schools that reflect the diversity of the wider world around them.

The research also backs this up – there are quantifiable academic outcomes derived from having a teacher work force more representative of our students. These include: increased academic achievement, increased referrals to gifted and talent/advanced placement courses, decreased disciplinary referrals, and decreased special education referrals. Considering the immense educational gaps students of color experience in our state, this potential solution deserves action now.

Innovation required

If we’re going to recruit and retain enough high quality teachers who meet our state’s needs and reflect the diversity of the student population, we need new, innovative teacher preparation programs to provide diverse entry points into the profession. Both of us gained our teacher certifications through alternative programs and know the need they fill by recruiting people who don’t realize that they want to be teachers by age 18. This is particularly relevant for people of color, who often have had negative experiences in the K-12 system, and sometimes come to teaching later in their lives.

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Alternative pathways to teaching have a better record attracting teacher candidates of color. Nationally, only 12 percent of teaching candidates in traditional programs are teachers of color, while they make up 30 percent of alternative programs. Minneapolis is no exception. Seventy-six percent of the teachers trained through the “Grow Your Own” program, in partnership with the University of Minnesota, are people of color. More than a third of the teachers placed in Minneapolis-St. Paul classrooms last year through Teach for America-Twin Cities, another local alternative cohort, are people of color.

We need the Legislature to address the programmatic barriers that exist within traditional teacher preparation programs, but these two options are not mutually exclusive. We need an all-in effort to attract new teachers to the profession and train them to be effective with diverse student populations. We need “Grow Your Own” programs, post-baccalaureate options, residency programs, and new programs that don’t even exist yet.

As educational advocates who work with teachers to develop policy solutions, we ask our legislators to “put their money where their mouth is” and invest in growing pathways into teaching, particularly those that attract teachers from diverse backgrounds. Funding is the primary hurdle, as these programs are resource-intensive from the outset. For example, the Minneapolis “Grow Your Own” (GYO) program costs $44,000 per teacher trained. Let’s be real, though – the average cost to replace a single teacher who leaves the district costs upwards of $15,000. Recruiting, training and placing diverse, talented teachers is a necessary long-term investment from which we will reap benefits for years to come.

Models abound

We know this is a tall order for any teacher preparation program. While no alternative licensure program is perfect, Urban Teachers in D.C., Relay Teacher Residency, New York Teaching Fellows, Teach For America, and Illinois’ Grow Your Own have each had success in at least some of these areas in which Minneapolis is now struggling. Along with an initial investment, we must set a high bar for outcomes for these programs within a short timeframe and stop investing in programs that don’t produce results.

E4E teachers are proposing a bill asking for $5 million to support innovative teacher preparation programs to address teacher shortages with a focus on increasing racial and ethnic diversity. Given the urgency of this problem, the surplus we have in front of us, and the needs of our students – this is a small investment that could pay dividends for years to come, but we’ve got to act now. Pass this bill.

Madaline Edison is the executive director of Educators 4 Excellence – Minnesota (E4E). Bernadeia Johnson, Ph.D., is a former Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent and a consultant.

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