The Importance of Diversity & Representation

Legislation | 01/28/2021

Toya Fick
Executive Director

Oregon’s classrooms have a major representation issue: nearly 40% of Oregon students are diverse, but only 10% of teachers are. That’s 179 diverse teachers per student compared to 21 non-diverse teachers per student. If we don’t take immediate action, this representation gap could widen even further.

Here’s why: in an effort to diversify teaching staff, Oregon public schools recently reported adding nonwhite and multilingual teachers almost four times as fast as they were hiring monolingual, white teachers. But, Covid-19 triggered a budget crisis that could cause educator layoffs and an Oregon state law requires districts to follow a "last in, first out" policy in the event of layoffs. Many racially, culturally, or linguistically diverse teachers  are the most recent hires, so this law will cause them to be laid off at a much greater rate than monolingual, white teachers.

Will you join the fight for representation in our schools? Email your lawmakers and ask them to support teachers of color by voting YES on HB 2001. We know that the more messages lawmakers get about a certain issue, the more likely they are to support it.

Oregon has stated our commitment to diversity, representation, and equity and our laws should support that commitment. We’re proud to share that Speaker of the House Tina Kotek has sponsored House Bill 2001 which requires districts to maintain diversity ratios between teachers and students in the event of layoffs.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DIVERSITY AND REPRESENTATION

Peer-reviewed research has, time and time again, shown that diversity among educators directly translates to student success. In fact, it has been proven that white and BIPOC students look more favorably on teachers of color than white teachers. We also know that student perception of teachers directly translates to education outcomes. Below are powerful statistics that show how critical diversity and representation is in our schools.

  • Students taught by a teacher of the same race scored significantly higher in mathematics and reading than similar students of the same grade and school who were assigned to a teacher of a different race.
  • For low-income Black male student in grades 3 through 5, being taught by at least one Black teacher reduces the probability of dropping out by 39% and increases the student’s intent to pursue a four-year university degree by 29%. 
  • If students of color had a teacher of color in elementary school, they’re 39% more likely to graduate high school.
  • Black students taught exclusively by Black teachers were 2 to 3 percentage points less likely to receive exclusionary discipline than if they encountered only non-Black teachers.
  • When Black students had both a white and Black teacher, the Black teachers consistently had higher expectations for the children’s potential.

THE HISTORY OF OREGON’S COMMITMENT TO TEACHER DIVERSITY

Thirty years ago, in recognition of the disparity between this state’s diverse student population and the predominately white teacher workforce, the Legislative Assembly passed the Minority Teacher Act of 1991.

The act expressed Oregon’s commitment to ethnic-racial equity and established the goal that “by the year 2001 the number of minority teachers, including administrators, employed by school districts and education service districts shall be approximately proportionate to the number of minority children enrolled in the public schools of this state.

Nearly 25 years later, some progress toward that goal had been made, but Oregon’s teachers remained significantly less diverse than our student population. So, in 2015, the Legislative Assembly reworked the Minority Teacher Act of 1991 by broadening the scope of the Act to recognize the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity in education. They renamed it the Educators Equity Act. The Educators Equity Act once again restated Oregon’s commitment to racial equality and established the state goal that “the percentage of diverse educators employed…reflects the percentage of diverse students in the public schools of this state or the percentage of diverse students in the district.” The act requires the Department of Education to monitor district progress on the recruitment, hiring and retention of diverse educators.

Finally, in 2019, the Legislative Assembly passed the Student Success Act and committed resources for programs that increase educator diversity and retain diverse educators. This investment was critical – Oregon public schools recently reported adding nonwhite and multilingual teachers at almost four times the rate that the schools were hiring monolingual, white teachers in an effort to meet the state goal of an educator workforce that reflects the diversity of students in public schools.


REPRESENTATION GAPS & INEQUITABLE POLICIES

With these commitments, we’ve increased teacher diversity significantly in the past three decades. Still, we have progress to make. In the 2018-2019 school year, the Oregon Department of Education reported that only 10 percent of teachers identified as racially, culturally, or linguistically diverse compared to a student population of 38 percent diverse students. The statewide student-to-teacher ratio is 19:1 but the statewide ratio of diverse students to diverse teachers is 68:1. At minimum, we must keep these representation gaps from widening.

Then came the pandemic, which created a budget crisis that may trigger school district layoffs. These layoffs will put our decades of progress of teacher diversity at risk because current state law requires school districts to prioritize seniority in layoff determinations without consideration for diversity or representation.

Years ago, after 300,000 teachers nationwide were laid off during the Great Recession, dozens of states amended such laws around teachers’ conditions of employment and many removed inequitable “last-in, first-out” policies. In 2020, Oregon remains one of only 17 states to require tenure or seniority status to be used as a primary factor in layoff determinations.

New York has the same layoff determinations as Oregon and after making similar efforts in the past several years to hire diverse teachers, the Schenectady, N.Y. school district was forced to lay off 320 educators. Nearly half were educators of color.

To avoid a similar outcome and continue our path to progress, Oregon must take immediate action. The “last-in, first-out policy must be updated to protect diverse teachers.

SUPPORTING TEACHER DIVERSITY WITH HOUSE BILL 2001

For all the acts, statements, and improvements made on hiring diverse teachers, we have not updated Oregon’s layoff policy to ensure we are protecting our progress. Diversity has been proven to directly translate to student success. In the event of layoffs, it should be considered along with merit. Speaker Kotek has long been an education champion and an advocate for diversity and representation. This legislative session, she is sponsoring House Bill 2001, which would require districts to maintain diversity ratios between teachers and students in the event of layoffs. To do this, merit will be expanded to consider: whether the teacher speaks a language other than English; years taught in schools where at least 25% of the population is diverse; or, whether the teacher received a scholarship for culturally and linguistically diverse teacher candidates.

Will you join the fight for representation in our schools? Email your lawmakers and ask them to support diverse teachers by voting YES on HB 2001. We know that the more messages lawmakers get about a certain issue, the more likely they are to support it.

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