March 25, 2019

White Educators in Minnesota: We Need to Step Up

By Matt Shaver

In the 2017-2018 school year, 47,199 African-American students took the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment in reading. 30,584 did not pass. 41,299 Latinx students took the MCA in math. 26,949 did not pass. 2,891 American Indian students took the MCA in science. 2,164 did not pass.

I use raw numbers rather than percentages, because behind each number is an individual child with limitless potential. I use raw numbers to point out that the number of African-American students in Minnesota reading below grade level could nearly fill Target Field.

No matter what you think about tests like the MCAs, why is anyone okay with these outcomes? Why isn’t this the central issue in local political and civic life? What is Minnesota’s plan to teach all of our kids to read, do math, and have a mind for science?

“Only broken systems can get such predictable results again and again—and white educators like me make up the backbone of the system.”

I’m glad lawmakers and lobbyists are working this year to diversify our teaching force. We know that having more teachers of color in our schools will help students of color succeed. But, white teachers, that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook.


There are 71,804 licensed educators in Minnesota. 68,827 of those educators are white.

White teachers: We need to get better at teaching students of color. Plain and simple.

To be crystal clear: There is nothing wrong with our students of color. This is not a “kids these days” issue. This is not a parenting issue. Only broken systems can get such predictable results again and again—and white educators like me make up the backbone of the system.

As a white educator, I recognize how painful it is to understand that I may not be doing my best for all of my students. The reality, however, no matter what measure you look at, is that I’m not and neither are you. So what steps can white educators take?

  1. Acknowledge the absolutely brutal chasm between the outcomes of white students and students of color in Minnesota.
  2. Recognize that you have agency in this. No, you can’t control what happens outside of school. You do have control over whether learning happens when children are with you. It’s the only reason we show up every day.
  3. Interrogate your privilege, biases, and expectations. Who do you choose to call on in class? Who do you not call on? Which students do you seem to have more patience for? Which students do you accept mediocre work from? Why? Who are you letting slide by?
  4. Look at your curriculum. What narratives does it center? Why? If it is unbalanced, what can you do to balance it?

There are plenty of additional things to do to get better at this. I’m certainly a work in progress as a white educator. But, these are some ways to start.

We live in a reality where there is poverty, trauma, segregated housing, and inequitable funding structures. We know there are not enough counselors, not enough money, and not enough educators of color. There is an ugly legacy of systemic oppression and racism in our state that continues to harm people of color.

But even as we fight to change these things, our kids cannot afford to wait. They need great teaching right now. White educators in Minnesota: We need to step up.




So, you’re a white teacher who wants to be better for your students of color? There’s not a perfect succession of steps to follow. These are resources that have helped me be a better educator for students of color. Just pick something and start and then don’t stop. There’s not one article/video/podcast/workshop that will be a magic elixir – you are signing up to grow and get better for the rest of your life. You owe that commitment to your kids and your community.

Books (Buy Them From a Local Bookstore, You Cowards!!) + Articles
People Who Will Consistently Push Your Thinking on Race and Education on Twitter
  • @debreese Book reviews that will make you reconsider how much you loved Maniac Magee as a sixth-grader
  • @mdawriter  Brilliant thinker on race and education
  • @MisterMinor Writer and educator
  • @AB_Wright 2016 MN Teacher of the Year and instructional leader
  • @TheJLV Math educator

EdAllies seeks to elevate diverse voices and foster a candid dialogue about education. While we provide our blog as a platform for EdVoices and other guest contributors, the views and opinions they express are solely their own.

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