Minority Pathways to Education: The Initiative


March 30, 2015


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“They’re just not out there. I mean, maybe in like San Francisco, Miami, or New York where there are more of them but not Portland and certainly not anywhere else in the state. People of color are just not in the education field...”

I often don’t know what to do when I hear these statements. My mind fills in the blanks or falls readily into the unspoken and heavy inference of race and ability stereotype. Inevitably, I end in a place of blind anger.

The propensity is to linger in that emotion, but if centered too long in it, it consumes. As that anger fades or transitions, characterized by a forced necessity, it yields to a yearning for understanding. To be clear, this understanding is not an acceptance of the statement but rather an insight that allows for dissection of the sentiments beneath with an intent to change a disenfranchising paradigm.

Through that analysis, there is a perspective shift—a look out into crowded high school hallways, a look out into the student ranks of all of our schools. “See that diverse student body? See that community blessed with ethnic and racial diversity? These kids that you see look like your kids because they are your kids.” Then the realization comes, painfully obvious yet previously hidden.

The sentiments fueling the above statement are grounded in white privilege and built upon the assumption that culpability lies with those who don’t take advantage of opportunities put before them. “We built it so why didn’t they come?” That’s where the understanding should start, understanding that a perspective that rides shotgun with white privilege pure and simple is narrow and, by design, will blind.

What’s the concept?

It’s quite simple—don’t wait to recruit educators of color until after they graduate from high school. Instead reverse engineer a career pathway down to ninth grade with a set of experiences, internships and themes related to education. Most importantly, once the pathway is engineered, target children of color and ethnic diversity already in college-preparatory classes, or the like, as potential candidates.
Has it been done before?

So, starting with the universities—are there programs out there to recruit minority children into the education field? Well, yes and no. There have been programs in Oregon and elsewhere that have targeted students of color and solicited them into education studies for years. The metrics, though, affirm the impact has been nominal, and to be frank, I wouldn’t even need a metric. In my district I can count the instructors of color on one hand. What I see are splashes of color in a sea of white.

Step 1: Sell your concept

It all starts with conversation, and, really, it took about a year of floating the idea around to anyone and everyone who would listen: teachers, administrators, parents, advocacy groups, and especially universities. Again, I say especially universities—all layers of a university: graduate studies, undergraduate studies, the education department, dual credit department, etc. Usually, after each conversation with a university, there is a lot of generated interest, but what I found was that until money was folded into the equation, nothing moved—that’s when the conversation shifted from theoretical to concrete. “Invest a dollar today for two tomorrow.” That’s the concept we were selling that helped get universities to listen. For example, if I have 40 children go through the program and all earn credit and admission to the university, that’s 40 children who would potentially pay tuition in subsequent years. There is a fiscal payoff for higher education to invest early—to put some significant skin in the game. To get this off the ground, that’s what we needed, whether in the form of reduced credit cost, automatic enrollment, or flexibility in program design.

Step 2: Don’t recreate where you don’t have to

Once we had a university interested, we looked at program models that already existed, ones that we felt could be easily modified. We landed with the Portland State University senior inquiry model, which in case you don’t know, is a collaborative inquiry model of instruction in which two high school teachers and a university faculty member co-teach high school students for two periods the entire year yielding 15 university credits, the respective high school credits, and automatic enrollment in the university. We took this model, adjusted the theme to education, and deliberately and specifically targeted our Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) kids for enrollment. AVID is truly a prep course designed to supports kids for the rigors of a university. AVID gives exposure and refinement of those essential, prerequisite skills that allow students to be successful. All of these children would be first-generation college goers, and in our district almost all are children of color and/or of ethnic diversity. We just connected the already moving pieces by highlighting pathways across secondary and higher education.

Step 3: Finding the teachers

To say the least, teachers cannot be assigned to an initiative like this, so it pays to invest significant energy into initial conversations and subsequent follow ups. We had lots of these, both within our district and on site with our partners. We even took the time to see like models in action. This was the piece that sealed the deal for the teachers, taking it from the abstract and “just another initiative” and putting it into the realm of desirable practice.

Step 4: Making sure you have clear metrics of what you hope to accomplish

From the onset , our goal was to increase our ranks of teachers of color and this particular summative metric won’t be measured for some time—at least four years upon graduation of college and getting a job as a teacher. We needed to come up with something for the interim and had discussions and eventually outlined indicators or formative metrics to judge whether we’re headed in the right direction. The most obvious metrics would be graduation percentage for those participating in the pathway program and the other is how many students matriculated into university into an education program. As we get further into it, I’m positive we’ll refine our formative metrics to be more discrete and telling of success. This is new territory between two entities that don’t historically have clear articulation between them. Bridges will need to be built.

Step 5: All the other steps

What I have outlined is our initial roadmap to changing a practice so that we can better meet our district personnel needs and more importantly the needs of some of our more underserved children. There is much more work to be done and as with all initiatives there is chance of failure. That’s just what it is. We are in process of finalizing agreements for a 2015–16 implementation. We are also in process to articulating what the experience would look like in grades 9, 10, and 11. My ultimate hope is to create a fully articulated pathway starting in ninth going through twelfth grade where participants earn their associate’s degree and can enter university with a focus around a career of need.