If you’re inclined to grade Oregon schools for making progress, these numbers might be encouraging: Public schools are adding non-white and multilingual teachers almost four times as fast as they’re hiring monolingual, white teachers, according to numbers in the recent Oregon Educator Equity Report.
But the glass half-empty version of the latest numbers from the Chief Education Office is this: There's only 11 percent ethnic and lingual diversity among Oregon teachers, compared to nearly 40 percent diversity among Oregon students. A presentation this week to the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) set a goal of reaching at least the level of diversity of the state’s high school graduates, or about 33 percent.
On paper, Oregon has been working on the diversity gap between students and teachers for 27 years, since legislators passed the Minority Teacher Act. But progress has been slow and attention from lawmakers has been minimal.
“This work started back in 1991,” said Hilda Roselli, policy director at the Chief Education Office. “I think it’s rather significant ... that there was no legislative activity between then and 2013.”
Roselli told HECC this week that the pace of diversifying the teaching force is inadequate.
“What we know is that small, little fixes are not going to be sufficient for changing the overall outcome that we need,” Roselli said.
Rosselli points to a body of research showing students of color learn better when taught by diverse teachers.
Lincoln County Superintendent Karen Gray serves on a state advisory committee aimed at helping public schools diversify their teaching ranks. Gray said hiring teachers of color is only part of the challenge, noting schools have a hard time retaining them after they’re hired.
Gray said Oregon’s teaching colleges have the same problem with teaching candidates.
“What really does worry me is that the number of people who enroll in the programs for education are not the same numbers that complete,” Gray said.
The Oregon Educator Equity Report found that nearly a quarter of Oregon’s enrolled teaching candidates in 2016-17 were non-white. But only 17.3 percent of teaching candidates who completed Oregon’s programs that school year were non-white.
The report concluded that the main hurdle to recruiting and retaining teachers of color was a lack of support, both professionally and financially. Policy advisers Roselli and Gray told higher ed commissioners that there are insufficient financial supports and incentives to attract people of color to the teaching ranks, and too little diversity among mentors and colleagues available to support teachers of color.
On the financial side, the report recommends expanding scholarships, like the Oregon Teacher Scholars Program, which is providing $5,000 grants for dozens of teacher candidates this year. The report calls for at least 70 scholarships per year. It also supports providing residencies, so that teaching candidates can work part or full-time while finishing their education programs.
The report also calls for removing barriers to completion. It said higher education leaders should streamline the credit transfer process to make it easier for students to move from community colleges to university programs in pursuit of a teaching degree. It also supported efforts by Oregon’s Teachers Standards and Practices Commission to explore alternatives to standardized tests for proving their preparedness for teaching.
Bias comes up repeatedly in the equity report as a problem that permeates the education system, from how questions are worded on teacher licensing exams to a need for better cultural sensitivity among school administrators.
One of the key strategies that Roselli and Gray highlighted to the commissioners was to use the diversity of public school students as the start of a pipeline to more teachers of color.
Gray said her district in Lincoln County has a partnership with the Oregon Coast Community College and Western Oregon University to help local public school students of color grow up to be teachers.
“That is producing the ability to have people who already love a rural area, like in Lincoln County School District. A lot of the people we hired had connections back to the local community,” Gray said.
“These are the folks that really want to come back and serve their community.”
These so-called “grow-your-own” programs will take a long time, as today’s public school students will take years to come through Oregon colleges of education. At the same time, schools only have so many openings each year, based on funding for new positions and vacancies that open, mostly through retirements.