Letter to the Editor: Minnesota must swiftly invest in educators of color

At a time when every organization should be thinking critically about their commitment to diversity and equity, should Minnesota really have to wait until at least 2021 to see the Increase Teachers of Color Act become law?

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Letter to the Editor

In the wake of civil unrest in Minneapolis and beyond, the question of which agencies and programs should be funded looms over the Twin Cities like storm clouds. But there’s one unassailable investment that should be on every leader’s mind right now: recruiting more teachers of color to Minnesota’s classrooms.

The research is clear. Educators of color are more likely to use effective, culturally relevant teaching methods in their classrooms, leading to stronger relationships with kids. One study shows that Black students are 13% more likely to enroll in college by having just one Black teacher in elementary school. For Black male students, the impact is even more pronounced — it reduces the odds that they will drop out by almost 40%. 

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that this impact isn’t exclusive to Black and brown students. When school districts make intentional efforts to recruit, support and retain educators of color, all students, regardless of race, reap these benefits. 

Minnesota isn’t quite there yet, however, and too many of the state’s students of color are missing out on the benefits of having teachers who look like them. According to data from the 2018-19 school year, roughly 34% of Minnesota’s students are of color, but only 5% of teachers can say the same. What’s even more surprising? Almost half of the state’s school districts don’t have a single teacher of color. If we truly want to achieve meaningful social change in our cities, working to diversify the teaching profession is a natural first step.

The good news is that Minnesota already has some ideas about how to do that. For two sessions now, the Legislature has entertained a bill called the Increase Teachers of Color Act that would create a yearly statewide goal of increasing teachers of color by two percentage points. The bill would achieve that by significantly expanding grants for programs that recruit high school students from racially diverse backgrounds to become teachers, allowing school districts to “grow-their-own” future staff members. It’s a good plan.

But even though the Increase Teachers of Color Act cleared the education policy committee this session, the bill never really caught on in the Legislature. That’s a real shame. At a time when every organization should be thinking critically about their commitment to diversity and equity, should Minnesota really have to wait until at least 2021 to see the Increase Teachers of Color Act become law?

If the education community is earnest about committing itself to the work of racial justice, it starts by investing in teachers of color. Let’s make that a priority by demanding legislators to pass the Increase Teachers of Color Act as soon as possible. 

This letter was submitted by Garris L. Stroud, an advocate with the national education content platform Education Post.

This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for style and clarity.