My Testimony to the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities

So yesterday I was given the opportunity to testify for informational purpose on Wisconsin AB51, a bill that deals with loan forgiveness my minority teachers.  Here is what I had to say:

Hello and thank you for the opportunity to testify before this committee. My name is Michael Ford and I am in my 6th year as an Assistant Professor of Public Administration at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. I am testifying today because AB 51 touches on a subject area in which I am currently conducting research.

The theory of representative bureaucracy states that a government that reflects the demographics and values of the governed is both more legitimate, and higher performing than one that does not. The basic premise is that passive representation, which shows up as demographic alignment between government employees and the governed, leads to active representation of minority interests. There has been a large amount of research on this topic dating back to 1944. A good deal of it focuses on education.

Why K-12 education? Teachers are front-line bureaucrats who work directly with students on a daily basis, and are thus highly influential in their development. Overall, the research on teacher representativeness shows that alignment between teacher and student racial demographics, i.e. passive representation, leads to active representation of minority students and improved overall school and district performance. In other words, we know it is good for students, in particular minority students, to be exposed to a diverse teaching force.

However in Wisconsin there are many students who are never exposed to a non-white teacher. In 2018, 191 of Wisconsin’s 422 school districts had no minority teachers. Those same districts served on average, 10 percent minority pupils. We know from studies elsewhere this could mean students are being deprived of something that can lead to improved outcomes. But what is happening in Wisconsin?

Using data collected from DPI for the years 2016, 2017, and 2018, I created a 0 -100 index for each school district in Wisconsin measuring the alignment between the percentage of minority teachers and minority students in the district. The higher the number, the more closely the alignment. I found, that in districts with 20 percent or more low-income students, higher scores on the index were linked to higher overall district accountability scores, math scores, and English language arts scores. This relationship exists after student poverty, special needs status, ELL status, and overall district size were taken into account. I then looked to see if a change in the minority teacher/student alignment index impacted performance. I found that districts that improved their minority teacher/student alignment over-time achieved math score gains. What does this mean and how is it relevant to this bill?

  • First, it shows there is recent evidence in Wisconsin that a diverse teaching force is linked to higher student performance.
  • Second, it shows that improving minority teacher representation may increase math scores in Wisconsin districts.
  • Third, it shows a little representation can go a long way, alignment doesn’t have to be perfect to matter.
  • Fourth, it shows that a broader conceptualization of minority teacher is warranted.
  • Fifth, the results are present in districts with greater then 20 percent poverty, this is much more than just a Milwaukee or Madison thing.

To conclude, there is a sound logic and good evidence for pursuing policies that increase minority representation in Wisconsin’s teaching force. Thank you for your time.

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