Media Room

April 15, 2016

Good afternoon and thank you for your efforts to address a critical issue facing our school system.

I don’t have to tell anyone in this room that our state’s teaching demographics are far from reflecting the diverse student bodies we are responsible to educate.

In 1991, Oregon began to address this trend through the Legislature creating what is today referred to as the Oregon Educator Equity Act.

The Legislature charged state education agencies with creating a regular report detailing the state’s progress on efforts to diversify our educator workforce.

A group, called the Educator Equity Advisory Group, was convened to advise the state’s work. I know members, including the Chair and our host for today – Karen Gray from Parkrose School District – have put in many hours to come up with best practices for increasing the number of educators and school staff who reflect our student and community populations and embody their experiences.

Can members of the Advisory Group here please stand so we can recognize you for all you have done to support this state effort?

In Oregon, the number of culturally and linguistically diverse students is thirty-six percent while our diverse educators only make up eight-point-five percent.

The benefits of having educators from a variety of communities, cultures, and backgrounds are twofold. We know that students of color can benefit from having highly qualified teachers with cultural backgrounds similar to their own because such teachers are real-life models of career success and academic engagement. Diverse educators are also assets for school staffs and district administrations.  They provide important lenses and different experiences that inform how educators approach their work and problem solve. 

We know that students who have a teacher to whom they can relate are more likely to be more engaged, which contributes to their efforts, interests, and confidence. These factors can enhance student performance.

Additionally, teachers of color have demonstrated success in increasing the test scores of students with backgrounds similar to theirs.

 What we must remember is that the next generation of teachers is in our classrooms today. As educators and education leaders, you have the opportunity to encourage students to consider the teaching profession. Here’s an example:

Jenni, a bilingual seventh grader from Springfield, went to a parent-teacher conference with her mom late last year. Her mom only spoke Spanish, but the teacher knew very little.

Jenni was successful in interpreting the entire conversation, and even enjoyed the experience. 

Her teacher encouraged her to consider professions where she could use her interpretation and translation skills, such as becoming an educator. That’s when Jenni became excited. She asked her teacher if she could start right away.

Jenni became the inspiration for what is now the Teacher Cadet Program in Springfield. Today, through the yearlong Teacher Cadet Program, high school students gain early experiences and insights into being an educator by observing teachers and working with younger students.

What’s great is that at least fifty percent of the students enrolled in the program are culturally and linguistically diverse or first generation college students, and fifty percent of the participants in the program are male. These percentages alone far exceed the state’s existing educator workforce demographics.

This is a promising sign.

In addition to our efforts to recruit and retain diverse educators, it is critical that we support our existing workforce in having the training and professional development to be culturally responsive.

In January, through Executive Order, I created the Council on Educator Advancement as an advisory group to leverage the expertise of teachers and school leaders. I will receive the Council’s recommendations by September 1. Their report will help me make sure educators have access to relevant, high quality, and culturally responsive professional development opportunities.

I am proud to have appointed 17 members who reflect a diversity of race, cultural backgrounds, geographic region, and work experience.

I look forward to hearing from the Council this fall on how Oregon can streamline resources and support from a variety of sources to sustain professional learning and leadership.

Today’s summit is a wonderful opportunity for you all to come together to consider how our education system rises to meet the needs of our diverse student populations, and how we can set the stage for them to realize their full potential.

Thank you.