Minnesota Looks To Close Achievement Gap With Diverse Teachers

Many educators believe that the difference between the number of minority students and teachers is a direct contributor to the nation's achievement gap. Every state has a "diversity gap" between the percentage of minority students and teachers.

In the Twin Cities, according to the Minnesota Department of Education data, the number of minority students in metro-area schools increased by nearly 55,000 from 2001 to 2012. The minority students now make up 36% of public school enrollment, writes Christopher Magan of St. Paul Pioneer Press.

In 2001, students of color made up 26% of metro students. Much of the new diversity comes in the cities' inner suburbs. During a dozen years, metro districts added about 300 minority teachers. In the metro area, 94% of teachers are white.

Charter schools do better diversifying their teaching staffs, but the schools have seen a decline in minority teachers and students as the number of charters has increased.

In 2012, 11% of teachers in metro charter schools were minorities while 57% of the students were races other than white, compared with 20% of teachers and 65% of students in metro charter schools in 2001.

According to a federal survey from 2008, nationwide, only 17% of educators were minorities and 40% of the country's students were children of color.

Also, another national study, conducted by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, revealed that retention of minority teachers played a larger role than recruitment in the diversity gap.

Schools where teachers had more autonomy and staff members were more involved in administrative decisions were more likely to retain minority teachers, according to the study.

Education leaders think that bringing a more diverse group of teachers into the classroom could help close the achievement gap.

State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said the government should do more to diversify Minnesota's teachers. She is planning to hold hearings on teacher training and recruitment when the legislative session begins in February.

"This is going to be my No. 1 priority," said Torres Ray, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. "To me, the conversation about the achievement gap has become a rhetorical conversation. We get together and shame ourselves, but we haven't taken specific actions. This is a specific action."

According to Torres Ray, Minnesota's lack of teacher diversity isn't just a problem for metro districts, but there are districts in out-state with large minority populations, particularly in American Indian communities, where no teachers of color are available.

Torres Ray said lawmakers are required to better handle how state funding is used to recruit and train minority teachers. There are programs in various school districts and at universities, but there is a need for a concerted statewide effort.

State Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, the leading Republican on the House Education Policy Committee, agrees that Minnesota needs more diversity in its teaching workforce. Erickson doesn't believe state lawmakers are the ones who should be out recruiting them.

Over the past decade, the overall number of students studying education at public colleges and universities in Minnesota has dropped. In 2011, the state's institutions of higher education awarded 2,619 bachelor's degrees in education, compared to 2,849 four-year education degrees in 2001, according to state data.

12 29, 2013
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