IN THE MINORITY Dennis Draughn, one of 16 teachers of color at Apple Valley High, helped students prepare for their AP psych final. Photo by ANTHONY SOUFFLE, Star Tribune

Minnesota schools struggle with widening racial gap between students and teachers

Number of teachers of color is stuck at 5 percent as state’s diversity explodes.

Across Minnesota, as the student population becomes more racially diverse, the number of teachers of color is not keeping pace.

Since the 2006-07 school year — when this year’s high school graduating class was in first grade — the number of K-12 students of color has exploded, while that of teachers of color has barely budged, a Star Tribune analysis of state education data reveals. The disparity is even more pronounced in some rural and suburban school districts.

Education researchers predict Minnesota’s student-teacher racial mismatch likely won’t change for several decades — meaning today’s first-graders will face the same struggle for their entire school careers, too.

Having more teachers of color in classrooms has a positive impact on student learning overall, mounting research shows. A diverse teaching corps can help eliminate racial disparities in school discipline, and over time, it may even help close the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers.

Also, when students of color are matched with teachers who look like them, the students’ perceptions and attitudes about school improve, researchers say, and they are more likely to graduate from high school.

“We can all think of mechanisms and theories for why it might matter, but people have actually tested a lot of these theories and data and have found quite strong evidence that students learn more when they are in classrooms with teachers of the same races,” said Aaron Sojourner, associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, who has been studying school recruitment and retention of teachers of color.

Efforts to address the shortage of teachers of color have had limited success.

Student-Teacher racial mismatch in Minnesota

The share of students of color in Minnesota’s public schools has been rapidly growing, while the share of teachers of color has remained stagnant.

Percentage of teachers and students of color


Students of color


Teachers of color*





Student-Teacher racial mismatch

in Minnesota

The share of students of color in Minnesota’s public schools has been rapidly growing, while the share of teachers of color has remained stagnant.

Percentage of teachers and

students of color


Students of color


Teachers of color*





Jim Foster – Star Tribune

*Combines part-time and full-time teachers

Source: Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board

About 34 percent of K-12 students in the state are nonwhite, while teachers of color make up only 5 percent of part-time and full-time teachers, the Star Tribune analysis found.

And of the Minnesota schools with at least five minority students, 41 percent did not have any teachers of color in the last school year, the analysis found.

The difficulty in attracting and keeping teachers of color stems in part from too few minorities graduating with teaching degrees. Another problem, researchers report, is that teachers of color often have negative experiences with a school’s culture — causing them to leave.

The situation could get worse as the state’s population of people of color is expected to grow at a much faster rate, projections from the state demographer’s office show.

“We’re going to be in a crisis for many years to come,” said Paul Spies, professor of the School of Urban Education at Metropolitan State University. Spies is also co-founder of the Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota.

That has prompted new urgency to a long-stalled statewide push to boost the number of minority teachers to 8 percent and double the percentage of teacher candidates of color from 10 to 20 percent.

In 2017, legislative fixes included expansions of “grow your own” statewide teacher preparation programs, a new tiered licensing system, and the passage of a controversial proposal repealing a skills exam for those who finish teacher preparation programs. They would still need to pass the Minnesota teaching licensure exams, which measure content mastery and teaching skills.

The statewide teachers union and some teachers of color oppose parts of the new teaching licensure law. They argue the removal of certain training requirements for entry-level teaching licenses amounts to “lowering standards” for teachers and say the change could make teachers of color fear they will be viewed as less qualified than their white counterparts.

Advocates say the skills test is culturally biased and blocks many teacher candidates of color from entering the profession.

Parents are pushing for change, too.

How has your school fared?

Type in your school below to see how the number of teachers of color have changed since 2006-07, and how it compares to the rest of the state.

Students of Color in 2017-18:




Percentage of teachers who are non-white


*School had no teachers of color during that year

Rahul Mukherjee – Star Tribune

These ratios were calculated by dividing the number of students of color by the full-time equivalency number of teachers of color

Source: Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board

When his daughter Ni’onnie was in kindergarten, Ronnie Russell-Bey El repeatedly asked school leaders at Jenny Lind Elementary in Minneapolis to fix the shortage of teachers of color at school, he said. The school’s population is at least 96 percent students of color, but only 17 percent of the teachers are nonwhite. He said school leaders promised him that things were going to look different when his daughter started first grade.

On the first day of school in August, Russell-Bey El saw that not much had changed. He strolled into Jenny Lind, holding his daughter’s hand. A few minutes later, he stormed out of her first-grade classroom. Just like last year, his daughter’s teacher was white.

“We are outnumbered here,” he yelled. “I’m taking her back to Georgia. This is unacceptable.”

The Minneapolis Public Schools recently terminated for now its “grow your own” residency program, which was started in 2015 to help district aides become elementary teachers. Instead, officials run a special-ed residency program to train special-ed teacher candidates of color. Currently, 65 percent of the district’s elementary school students are kids of color. An even higher proportion — 74 percent — of all special-ed students in the district are nonwhite. As for the teaching staff, the district has 20 percent nonwhite elementary teachers and 15 percent special-ed teachers of color.

Some outstate districts have experienced a recent influx of minority students, particularly from immigrant families — sparking a demand for teachers with similar cultural and language skills.

In the Worthington school district, the student body is now 67 percent nonwhite — up from 38 percent in less than two decades.

The desire for more teachers of color is also great in many suburban school districts.

Najma Hassan, 17, has never had a teacher who looked like her. A senior at Burnsville High School, where roughly half the students are nonwhite, she has struggled throughout her school career to find a teacher who could relate to her life experiences and cultural background.

“It’s super sad that I haven’t had that experience,” said Hassan, who is Somali.

Every school day for the past three years, social studies teacher Dennis Draughn has been commuting from Minneapolis to Apple Valley High School, where he is one of 16 teachers of color.

Draughn, who is black, has become an indispensable role model to many of the school’s 800 students of color. He sets high goals for his students, helps them confront racism and uses culturally appropriate teaching practices.

“Students don’t want to be coddled. They want to be pushed,” he said.

With so many students of color and so few teachers like him, he is in constant demand.

“They are all fighting for your attention,” he said. “Our school represents what the United States looks like in terms of the student diversity, but the only problem is that it doesn’t look like that on the staff.”

Draughn displays his college diplomas in his classroom to encourage students to pursue higher education. Last year, he helped students form a Black Student Union.

White students have since joined the group and are learning the history of black people in this country, he said. The problem in schools, however, is that many white teachers make no effort to understand the struggles of minority students, Draughn said.

Last spring, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district officials surveyed about 100 juniors — mostly minorities — asking if they had ever been taught by a teacher of color. Almost all of the students said they had never had, and only a few reported having one or two nonwhite teachers, according to the district survey.

“It really was a wake-up call,” said Frannie Becquer, the district’s curriculum and instruction coordinator for secondary schools. “This is what [their] education has been like.”

Thanks to a state grant, the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district and others are creating a “grow your own” pipeline in the schools to stoke high school students’ interest in teaching. Because of that program, Hassan and several of her peers are being taught this year by a teacher of color — for the first time.

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