November 7, 2019

New Report Undercounts Minnesota’s Teachers of Color

By Krista Kaput

In September, the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) published their first official report on the breakdown of teacher licenses under Minnesota’s new tiered system. Unfortunately, the report leaves out critical data about Minnesota’s teacher workforce—ultimately undercounting teachers who did not yet have a tiered license. Omitting these educators conveys an inaccurate picture of the racial and ethnic diversity of our teacher workforce. 

Overall, about 18% of teachers of color and Native American teachers held a special permission in 2018-19—a fact not reflected in the report, and that has important implications for policy and practice focused on building a more racially diverse teacher pipeline.

Why isn’t the data complete? By rule, PELSB is required to publish an annual public report that provides an overview of the number of licenses on each tier, as well as the out-of-field and innovative program permissions, by licensure field, race and ethnicity—all of which the report technically includes. 

The problem is that this fails to capture data unique to the 2018-19 school year, when some teachers had not yet moved from the old teacher licensure system to the new tiered licensure system. Last spring, when it became clear that PELSB would not be able to meet the legislatively-mandated deadline for rulemaking, they authorized a one-year extension for all permissions, waivers, variances, and temporary licenses under the old system. Those extensions expired June 30, 2019 and are absent from the report, making it an incomplete summary of the past year.

The Full Picture on Special Permissions

The special permissions that are not captured in PELSB’s report—board waiver, community expert permission, limited license, non-renewable, and personnel variance—are disproportionately held by teachers of color and Native American teachers. To provide a more accurate picture of the racial and ethnic diversity of our teacher workforce, as well as the types of teacher licenses and permissions teachers of color held, we at EdAllies requested greater detail from PELSB. Overall, 7% of special permissions were held by teachers of color and Native American teachers. You can see the breakdown of the special permission data here.

This data becomes most significant when benchmarked against the number of teachers who have a teaching assignment, meaning they were teaching in a classroom. When we examine this data we find that teachers who were on special permission represent nearly 18% of black teachers and 21% of Latinx teachers, as compared to 6.5% of white teachers. 

Overall, more than 21% of teachers of color were teaching with a Tier 1 license, Tier 2 license, or special permission during the 2018-19 academic year. Going deeper, this equated to about 24% of black teachers, 12% of Native American teachers, 18% of Asian teachers, and 26% of Latinx teachers who taught on either a Tier 1 or Tier 2 license, or held a special permission license. 

All Licenses and Permissions, By Category & Race/Ethnicity, 2018-2019

Data from PELSB Data Request, August 12, 2019.  

*Here we include teachers who hold only a special permission license. Teachers with innovative program permissions, out-of-field permissions, and personnel variances also hold either a Tier 3 or 4 licenses, so are captured in those columns.

Why Accurate Numbers of Teacher Diversity Matter

While 34% of Minnesota students are students of color, only 4% of Minnesota’s licensed teachersand 5% of those actually in the classroomidentify as a teacher of color or Native American teacher. And despite investing over $60 million over the past two decades to diversify the teaching workforce, that number has essentially remained unchanged. 

This is significant for several reasons: when students of color have teachers of color they are more likely to be placed in gifted programs, do better academically, graduate from high school and are less likely to receive disciplinary referrals. And it’s not only students of color who benefit from having a teacher of color. Research has found that all students, including white students, benefit from having teachers who are from a wide range of racial and ethnic groups. 

There is also research which suggests that increasing diversity may benefit teachers of color and Native American teachers who are already in the profession. Specifically, this research reveals that teachers of color need critical mass, and feel frustrated, fatigued, and isolated when they are the only one or one of a few teachers of color in their school. 

If Minnesota is going to move the needle on increasing and retaining teachers of color, we need to understand how they are entering the classroom, as well as the barriers. This starts with good data on pathways to licensure. And while several of the special permission fields no longer exist, it is critical that our baseline data includes a clear analysis and a comprehensive picture of Minnesota’s teacher workforce. 

Ongoing Data Considerations 

Even though the state has fully transitioned to the new, four-tiered licensure system, there are some data considerations that we must note. First, educators are still transitioning into and out of the new tiered licensure system, and progressing up the tiers. This makes the data extremely fluid. 

Second, for the next few years the Tier 3 numbers will be deflated while the Tier 4 numbers are inflated. This is because teachers with a full license under the old system were automatically placed on Tier 4 regardless of whether they met all the criteria of the new system (eg: having less than 3 years of teaching experience or not having a good evaluation). When they renew, some may qualify for Tier 4 while others qualify for Tier 3.