Another effort to boost minority teaching ranks proposed

February 25, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — Freshman Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, made a local pitch Monday for a bill aimed at compelling school districts to try harder to put more teachers of color in front of an increasingly diversified student body.

The bill, which Bradley said will at least get a public hearing in the current legislative session, calls on districts to draft five-year minority teacher recruitment plans that the state would have to approve.

“It is a problem I have seen as a member of the (Bridgeport) Board of Education,” Bradley said from the third floor community room of the city’s public library. “There is really something to be said about the impact a minority teacher can make, especially a male minority teacher in the life of young people of color.

With Bradley were City Council Member Ernest Newtown and two teachers — Ryan Brown, a seventh grade teacher at Read School and Sheree Baldwin Muhammed, a second grade teacher at New Beginnings Family Academy, a city-based charter school.

Brown and Muhammed are both part of Educators For Excellence, a group that recently released a report outlining the need for more minority teachers.

That report, and others, have called for increases in culturally responsive teacher training programs to groom future teachers of color, state-supported “Grow Your Own” programs that offer free college tuition in exchange for returning to the district to teach or a program to offer housing subsides for teachers in high cost areas.

Increasing the ranks of teachers of color is something the State Department of Education has also worked on, with a goal of increasing their ranks to 10% - or by 1,000 new certified educators of color - by 2021.

How many new teachers of color get certification each year? State officials, on Monday, could not immediately say.

Bradley said the state is taking steps but needs bigger steps.

His bill would start small, requiring districts report — as they do now — on minority recruitment efforts, but also calls on them to have a plan on how they plan to boost their minority teacher count.

“The idea is to hold (districts) accountable,” Bradley said. “If their goals aren’t met, why?”

At present there would be no penalties and Bradley does not see it as an unfunded mandate.

“The idea is to encourage,” Bradley said.

Statewide some 47 percent of students are minorities while 74 percent of their teachers are white.

In Bridgeport, efforts to increase minority teacher have been reported to the school board but the percentage of minority educators has hoovered around eight or nine percent for the past five years.

The effort is stymied by the short supply of teachers of color who graduate each year from state teacher colleges.

Bradley said the fact that Bridgeport has a number of minority school administrators including Schools Superintendent of Schools Aresta Johnson, is a good thing.

“It’s all about leadership,” Bradley said.

Newton, who started out as a teacher many years ago, said more needs to be done to encourage minorities to move to the state, either through incentive programs or laws that make it easier for teacher certifications from other states to transfer to Connecticut.

He called the effort long over due.

The budget proposed last week by Gov. Ned Lamont would broaden certification reciprocity with other states and maintains funding levels for minority teacher recruitment efforts and existing loan forgiveness programs that assist minority students in pursing careers in education.

Muhammad, who grew up in Stratford, but got her teaching degree in Florida, said transferring back to the state was difficult.

Having teachers of color in the classroom, she added, can help students feel comfortable and increases the chances they can see themselves as teachers.

Brown agreed.

“I have had students who gravitate to me,” Brown said. “I understand the struggles they go through. My identity plays a role in that.”