One way to help more black students succeed in Madison schools — and across Wisconsin — is to hire more black teachers.
They can better relate, in many cases, to the culture of minority students, and provide strong role models to inspire achievement.
That’s why a law signed last week by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and approved by the Republican-led Legislature is significant and praiseworthy.
The law will expand the state’s far-too-restrictive loan program that was supposed to help minority high-school graduates attend Wisconsin universities and enter the teaching profession. The program forgives college debt — up to $30,000 — if participants stay in Wisconsin to teach in high-demand fields at schools with lots of black, Latino, American Indian and Southeast Asian students.
The state’s minority teacher loan program has attracted few applicants in recent years. That’s because it was limited to teachers who agreed to work in Milwaukee.
Thanks to Act 35, signed by the governor Thursday, the program will now expand to some 25 school districts — including Madison’s — that have 40% or more students of color.
In Madison, 58% of students represent minority groups, compared to only 13% of teachers, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. Even more disproportionately, 18% of Madison students are black, compared to less than 3% of teachers.
Across Wisconsin, about 30% of students are in minority groups, while only 5% of teachers are. African Americans are 9% of students and less than 2% of teachers.
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Because Wisconsin has the largest racial achievement gap in the nation, more teachers who can better connect with and encourage black students will be crucial.
School officials should widely publicize the opportunities for young people of color to pursue teaching careers. The loan program also should expand beyond high-demand teaching fields such as special education, math and bilingual teaching to include other subjects. A teacher can be a vital role model regardless of what’s being taught.
The state’s minority loan program alone won’t fix disparities, of course.
School districts with lots of minority students also must encourage greater parent involvement. They must continue to help disadvantaged students learn study skills and see paths to careers and higher education.
Madison is trying to turn more of its minority students into teachers. In exchange for training at UW-Madison’s School of Education, participants agree to teach in the Madison district for at least two years after graduating from college.
We’re not convinced lowering standards for grading is the answer. Yet offering students more chances to retake tests and get some credit for late work sounds fair and could help more freshmen advance. A smooth transition from middle to high school is crucial. So is good attendance.
High-quality teaching through professional development, peer coaching and better evaluations are important. Despite its flaws, the Act 10 limits on unions have given school principals more flexibility to consider and hire minority applicants.
Our schools need more minority teachers and other enhancements to bolster success.