While Minnesota’s student population continues to become more diverse, the state’s teacher population has remained largely white. Currently, students of color account for 33 percent of the student population, statewide. Yet teachers of color only account for 4 percent of the state’s teacher corps.
That disparity matters; experts have identified pairing teachers of color with students of color as an important lever in improving a number of outcomes. Namely, students of color stand to benefit from having a teacher they racially identify with in the classroom because it has the potential to impact their self-esteem and level of engagement.
In looking at the consequences of not having teachers of color in diverse classrooms, experts have linked the disconnect between white teachers and students of color to things like lowered academic expectations and heightened behavioral expectations — for black girls in particular — that lead to exclusionary discipline disparities.
Given Minnesota’s persistent achievement gaps between students of color and their white peers, diversifying the teacher corps is a strategy that many local school administrators, lawmakers and education advocates have been taking seriously in recent years.
As the third largest school district in the state — and one that’s serving an incredibly diverse student body — the Minneapolis Public Schools district has been at the forefront of this work. And, at first glance, the district’s efforts appear to be paying off.
At Tuesday evening’s board meeting, the district human resources staff reported that the diversity of its new teacher hires is increasing. This year, 26.9 percent of new teacher hires were teachers of color, compared to 19 percent in 2013.
But when staff project how far they’ll progress toward achieving their goal of having a teacher population that more closely mirrors the student population 10 years out, things begin to look a bit more dire.
Currently, the district’s student population is 66 percent students of color. Yet its teacher population is only 16 percent teachers of color. And if all other factors remain relatively constant — the size of the district, retention rates, and other variables that impact hiring decisions — the district will only achieve a slight gain in its teacher-of-color population, to 19 percent, by the year 2028.
“One of the things that was most eye-opening for us was the 10-year projection to see, of all the things we’re doing and the gains we’ve made, how little progress will happen, overall, for us, in terms of demographic numbers,” said Maggie Sullivan, the district’s chief of human resources. “I think that has shifted our lens to think what we’re doing right now is not enough.”
Looking at the 10-year projections her team put together, she pointed out that in order to raise its overall teacher of color population to 38 percent, the district would need to ensure that, each year, 55 percent of all its new teacher hires were teachers of color — a task made difficult by the fact that there simply aren’t enough teachers of color available for hire.
In order to accomplish the scenario outlined above, Sullivan said the district would need to capture about 90 percent of the teachers of color that the state produces every year.
Sullivan and her team estimate that over the last eight years Minnesota has only licensed and hired about 1,600 educators of color. That number includes poeple who are licensed but many not be working as classroom instructors.
“That’s not acceptable for us, and not acceptable for our students,” she said. “This is going to require deep partnership and commitment of teacher preparation [programs], the state, unions. We have to be in it together. The data, I think, presents a stark enough picture to bring us all to the table with a deep sense of urgency.”
Regression a real possibility
In the Minneapolis district, teacher retention rates are pretty high. Districtwide retention rates sit at 92 percent. Broken down by race, white teachers are retained at a slightly higher rate than teachers of color, at 92 percent and 88 percent, respectively.
While these numbers look promising, it does pose a barrier to hiring more teachers of color. Given the district’s project $33 million budget deficit for the upcoming school year, schools will likely be forced to cut positions, rather than add new ones. Any teacher cuts, Sullivan pointed out, will disproportionately impact teachers of color. That’s because a large portion of the district’s teachers of color — including those who have graduated from the district’s grow-your-own program, which aims to get staff of color already invested in the district on a pathway toward teacher licensure — have not yet achieved tenure.
Mapping out various scenarios, Sullivan said that if the district cuts 100 teacher positions, 32 percent of those cuts would likely impact teachers of color. At 300 cuts, the district’s teacher of color percentage would drop from 16 percent to 12.97 percent.
In an effort to prevent graduates from the district’s grow-your-own program from being cut, during the current round of teacher contract negotiations the district proposed adding protections for this cohort of new teachers. The teachers union — which has been a supporter of the grow-your-own program — has not yet publicly responded to this proposal.
Looking to build the teacher-of-color talent pipeline out even further, the district is also looking to offer its secondary students an opportunity to explore the possibility of becoming a teacher before they graduate.
The district currently runs an introductory type program at South High School. Next year, Sullivan said they plan to have two new pathway to teaching programs up and running at the Roosevelt and Edison high schools, in partnership with Minneapolis Community and Technical College, that would equip students interested in pursuing a teaching degree with applicable college credits before they even graduate from the district. The hope, of course, would be that these students go on to secure their teaching license and opt to teach in their home district.
In an attempt to better track which postsecondary teacher preparation programs in Minnesota are already churning out high rates of teachers of color candidates who are likely to stick with teaching in a high-poverty district like Minneapolis, Sullivan says the district has spent the last few years building out a teacher prep dashboard.
This effort has proven a bit cumbersome, as there are currently little to no accountability measures in place when it comes to tracking teacher preparation program quality in terms of which programs are best preparing students of color to pass the state’s teacher licensure exams and which programs are producing teachers of color that actually stay in the profession. It’s something that the team’s most recent hire — Victor Cedeno, recruitment coordinator — will become quite familiar with as he keeps an eye on increasing teacher diversity.
Returning back to things that are currently within their control, Eric Moore, the district’s chief of accountability, innovation and research, said there are a number of ongoing efforts to better equip white teachers to meet the needs of their students of color. Those efforts include things like professional development opportunities, diversifying the curriculum materials they have access to so that students see themselves reflected in classroom instruction, and the like.
A notable uptick in the district’s new principal hires — those who have a say in teacher hiring decisions — may also help improve teacher diversity. In 2013, only 27 percent of new principal hires were principals of color. By 2017, that rate had risen to 57 percent.