How to produce more diverse teachers

This column originally appeared in several of the APG East Central of Greater Minnesota newspapers.

How to produce more diverse teachers


This week’s column may make a lot of people angry. But after spending 20 years studying and working on ways to attract and retain more American Indian and “people of color” teachers, I have reached two conclusions. First, it’s a very worthwhile goal. Second, we need a combination of honesty, accountability and dollars. 

Here are four suggestions for legislators, schools and districts that want to make progress.

First, we need much more honesty about why tens of millions of dollars spent has produced virtually no increase in the percentage of Minnesota teachers of color. The best single report on this, published in 2018, was by Rose Chu, former chair of the Metro State College of Education, and some Humphrey School students. It’s “The Tale of Two States: How Policy and Funding Affect Efforts to Diversify the Teaching Corps in Oregon and Minnesota.” They found that between 2006 and 2016, the percentage of Oregon’s teachers of color almost doubled, from 5.2 to 9.3 percent. Meanwhile in Minnesota it increased less than 1 percent, from 3.5 to 4.2 percent. 

Researchers found Minnesota spent more than $5 million to increase the number of American Indian teachers. But available reports did not show how many remained in teaching. It also explained that several Minnesota private universities received millions to increase the number of teachers of color — again, no record of how many of them remain teachers. Chu et. al pointed out that Oregon spent money not only to encourage people of color to enter teaching but also to stay in teaching. Minnesota focused primarily on encouraging people to enter the profession.

Second, valuable things could be done now that won’t require any additional money. Late last year, I took a bright African-American Minnesota high school student to meet with a statewide coalition advocating for greater teacher diversity. He had written a college paper about the importance of doing this. For two hours, teachers complained about their principals, co-workers and students. Among the student’s conclusions were that, while recognizing there are frustrations, if educators want to increase the number of teachers of color, they need to talk about the joys, as well as frustrations, of teaching. 

A great example is a website that Minnesota Education Equity Partnership has created. A section called “Victories” describes satisfactions of being an educator. I’d encourage Minnesota educators to contribute to this website and share it with students. It’s found at

Third, new approaches should be tried. A 2014 Bush Foundation evaluation of a 10-year, $40 million effort to improve Minnesota teacher preparation found that given no significant increase in teachers of color, “With more traditional methods not showing results, we believe this is an opportunity to seek out and support innovative ideas for addressing this important challenge.” 

Here’s a great example. Hopkins Superintendent Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed recently told me only one of Hopkins Schools’ 140 elementary teachers is an African-American male. She cited 2018 research showing African-American students who had a least one African-American K-5 teacher were 7 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 4 percent more likely to enter college than similar students who didn’t have any African-American elementary teacher. 

She’s leading district, charter, athletes and community members who are trying within six years to have at least 20 percent of educators in eight elementary schools be African-American males. The group is asking legislators for $750,000 (out of a $3.3 million total budget). 

This project seems well-researched and well-deserving of legislative and foundation support.

Fourth, some additional funding will be necessary, along with other changes. A statewide coalition is asking for more than $80 million over the next two years. I’ll write more soon about their suggestions. Some are great, and some could be refined.

In a March 22 letter to House Speaker Melissa Hortman, leaders of the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs, Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, and Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, wrote, “The top priority in education that has united our three Councils and the Indian Affairs Council this session and the past two sessions has been the need to increase teachers of color and American Indian teachers.” 

This could be great. But Minnesota has spent millions without much progress. Honesty, new approaches and accountability must accompany legislative funding.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher, administrator and PTA, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome,