Hard Truths About the Threats to Minneapolis’ Teachers of Color and How to Protect Them


Do you remember that ugly meme that went around a few weeks back? The one that attempted to smear several Minneapolis Public Schools administrators for their “associations” with KIPP schools, Teach for America, Minnesota Comeback and my own kid’s scrappy little standalone school?

There was one administrator one there who for good reason is embroiled in scandal: The district’s enrollment chief, who runs a side consultancy that steers families – presumably wealthy ones – to private schools and equips them to justify this decision to critics. He didn’t “associate” with the rest, but you’d never know it from the lines and arrows and conspiratorial language on the meme.

(It’s tempting to veer off on a rant questioning whether we remember other dark eras of U.S. history when we fired people – and worse – because of “associations.” But I am working up to a point and I am determined to make it.)

One of the people eviscerated by the meme was MPS Human Resources Chief, Maggie Sullivan, whose “association” is her service on the leadership council of the education advocacy group Minnesota Comeback. Among other things, Comeback has funded nine district initiatives, several of them in Sullivan’s sphere.

And a couple of them touted as victories by, or funded at the behest of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers – which drew up and circulated the meme: The “Grow Your Own” program that’s one of the most promising mechanisms for diversifying the ranks of the district’s teachers; a pilot studying the retention of teachers of color and the last referendum campaign.

So why hate on Sullivan – particularly if she’s bringing home the bacon? She’s not even a veteran of any of the education reform efforts the meme associated its other targets with. Before MPS, she worked for Pittsburgh Public Schools and before that for the Boys and Girls Club.

On Tuesday, Sullivan presented the Minneapolis School Board with the results of an equity and diversity impact assessment of HR policies and practices that affect recruitment, hiring and retention. No surprise, the presentation led with the yawning disconnect between the racial composition of the student body and the teacher corps.

While two-thirds of students are of color, just 16 percent of teachers are. Which puts Minneapolis far ahead of Minnesota as a whole, where the rate is 4 percent. But not nearly where it needs to be. Research is consistent on the many benefits to students of having teachers who look like them.

Impressively, 27 percent of new teachers hired this year were of color, compared with 19 percent in 2013. The percentage of principals of color hired went from 27 percent to 57 percent in the same time frame.

And while common wisdom is that districts can’t retain the teachers of color they do hire, Minneapolis is doing pretty well. It retains 88 percent of its teachers of color, vs. an overall retention rate of 92 percent.

Another pair of myths busted in the presentation: Hiring has been “robust,” to borrow a tired bit of edu-speak. Over the last 10 years the number of MPS teachers has risen from 2,751 to 3,400.

And since the 2011-2012 school year, their wages have gone up 28 percent. Because this year’s contract is still being negotiated, that percentage could go up retroactively.

The district is doing all kinds of things right, then, but without policy changes over the next 10 years its percentage of teachers of color will only rise from 16 percent to 19 percent. Some of those changes – intentional recruitment of candidates of color, analysis of why some schools struggle more than others to retain them – are within the district’s control.

Some aren’t. There’s the budget, which this year contains a $33 million deficit that will necessitate 100-400 layoffs, according to the presentation, and there’s the teacher contract, currently under negotiation. Because of provisions in the contract, those laid off will disproportionately be newer teachers of color who won’t survive the process of layoffs strictly by seniority.

There is a licensure issue, which really needs to be a post of its own on another day. Suffice for today to say that the union is asking the district to agree not to hire new teachers with the two kinds of licenses most diverse candidates hold – including the Grow Your Own program teachers.

And there are a few lines near the end of the presentation that also merit a fuller unpacking. If it is to do better than adding 3 percent more teachers of color over the next decade, MPS will have to turn to “regional and national” teacher preparation pipelines. With a couple of exceptions, Minnesota teacher training programs are not graduating more than a few new teachers of color.

The union has not responded publicly to a district negotiating proposal to shield Grow Your Own teachers from “last-in, first-out” layoffs. Nor has it replied to proposals that would streamline the process of hiring new teachers to make it easier to compete for outside candidates of color or to a proposal to give any teacher who refuses to interview for posts ONLY one year on the payroll without assignment.

Up to one third of impending layoffs will be teachers of color. The percentage of the teacher corps that’s non-white would fall from 16 percent to 13 percent.

From out here in the cheap seats it’s seems entirely likely the only “association” Sullivan is guilty of is associating facts with facts — policies, practices and contract provisions to outcomes. On her watch, the teacher corps diversified – and fairly quickly. Now that’s threatened, and if she is to have even a chance of continuing what’s worked, she needs us to hear her over the shouting of the folks who thought the meme was a good idea.






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