Retention problems threaten gains in hiring teachers of color

Minnesota has made some progress when it comes to recruiting teachers of color, but problems keeping teachers in the classroom threaten to undermine gains.

Teacher shortages also have districts relying more on special state permissions that allow them to hire teachers who are not fully licensed, according to the Minnesota Department of Education's 2017 Teacher Supply and Demand report.

"This issue needs a big solution," said Josh Collins, a department spokesperson.

Gov. Mark Dayton's 2017 budget proposal includes a 2 percent increase in per-student education spending and money for teacher training. Some Republican lawmakers have critiqued that budget as too expensive — it would use up most of the state's projected surplus.

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The Education Department report shows teachers of color making up 7.7 percent of newly licensed teachers in 2015-16. That's up 1.6 percent in the past five years. The increase is largely because of a rise in newly licensed black and Hispanic teachers.

However, a quarter of Minnesota teachers leave the profession after just three years, according to the report, which is based on four years of data. Districts named salary and a competitive job market as large barriers to retention.

"Districts won't hold on to great new teachers if those teachers keep coming up short every month after paying for health insurance, housing, living expenses and their student loans," state teachers' union president Denise Specht said in a statement commenting on the report.

The report does not separate retention trends by race. But a 2011 University of Pennsylvania study found that in a national data set, turnover for teachers of color tended to be higher than turnover for white teachers.

That creates a situation where school districts have trouble finding teachers who look like their students. The report noted that Minnesota students of color are a growing group, while the white student population is shrinking.

The overwhelming majority of school districts surveyed said they did not have access to enough teachers of color.

Schools expect to have the most difficulty hiring for jobs in special education, math, chemistry and teachers with multiple licenses over the next five years.

"This issue, which used to be more felt in greater Minnesota, is really all around the whole state now," Collins said.

Elementary education, social studies and English teachers are expected to be among the easiest to find over the next five years. Nearly all districts surveyed said short- and long-term substitute jobs are "somewhat" or "very" difficult to fill.