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Local View: Teacher recruitment taking aim at a moving demographic target

From the column: "Initiatives like the proposed teacher-recruitment program, even if feasible, seem to ignore inevitable consequences in other sectors of the economy. Ironically, they may even doom other professions’ efforts toward racial equity."

Phil Jensen.jpg
P.A. Jensen
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The Minnesota Legislature is considering a bill to recruit more teachers of color. The bill’s supporters stress that 95% of Minnesota’s public-school teachers are white, compared to only 66% of students. Framing the disparity this way ignores some important demographic trends and their consequences.

Stated simply, white Minnesotans have fewer children than people of color do, which translates to a higher ratio of white adults per child. In Minnesota, white people may make up 66% of K-12 students, but they are 82% of working-age people. Also, because white people earn bachelor’s degrees at nearly twice the rate of Black and Hispanic people, they make up an estimated 94% of working-age college graduates among the three groups. This number aligns neatly with the actual percentage of white teachers in the state today.

In other words, comparing the percentages of teachers to the percentages of potential teachers, and not to the percentages of children, reveals that our classrooms represent Minnesota’s current demographics pretty accurately.

Of course, the conversation doesn’t end there. Supporters of the bill claim students perform better when taught by a teacher of the same race, which seems to support hiring more diverse teachers. Even if that’s true, a statewide program to recruit teachers of color would run into logistical problems. The most obvious problem is that “people of color” is an umbrella term for several races, raising questions about how teachers of each race would be distributed among students and school districts who claim to need them. But even if we set aside those details, the fact remains that a statewide recruitment program would probably benefit just a few schools: 80% of Black students, for example, are enrolled in just 7% of the state’s districts.

But logistics are not the point, either. Fighting broad demographic trends is an uphill battle; in the case of education, that hill continues to steepen thanks to exponential growth. As the percentage of non-white children continues to grow each year, adults of color would struggle to become teachers at a matching rate. More and more adults of color would need to enter the teaching field just to meet the rising tide of children.

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Even if that’s possible, it wouldn’t occur in a vacuum. The pool of college-educated people of any race is finite, and the percentages of college graduates entering all fields must sum to 100. Disproportionately high percentages of any racial group entering one profession, like teaching, necessarily translates to disproportionately low percentages entering another, like engineering or medicine or computer science or graduate study generally. Ongoing campaigns already encourage college graduates of color, especially Black and Hispanic graduates, to enter each of these fields. At some point, the demands for equity — well-meaning as each might be on its own — start to outpace the supply of workers.

And white college graduates, what are they supposed to do? If they’re underrepresented as teachers, they’ll have to be overrepresented in other fields. That sounds a lot like the original problem that the bill is claiming to combat.

Initiatives like the proposed teacher-recruitment program, even if feasible, seem to ignore inevitable consequences in other sectors of the economy. Ironically, they may even doom other professions’ efforts toward racial equity.

How many college-educated professionals of color “should” be in Minnesota’s workforce? “More,” probably. But how many more and in which fields? In the high-profile, multimillion-dollar proposal to recruit teachers of color, we’ve started to see that “more” may never be enough.

P.A. Jensen of Duluth writes about politics, sports, and rural life at RuralityCheck.com. He wrote this for the News Tribune. His sources cited for this commentary includes the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board, the U.S. Census, the Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey, and the Minnesota Department of Education.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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