SB 755, which broadens the term "minority," for the Minority Teacher Act, recently passed out of the Oregon Senate and is headed to the House of Representatives. Some community members have expressed concerns that the bill could have an adverse effect on the presence of Black teachers. Rep. Lew Frederick spoke with the Skanner News via phone to discuss why he supports the bill.
Bruce Poinsette: Could you explain exactly what SB 755, the Minority Teachers Act, does and why you're supporting it?
Rep. Lew Frederick: Well, it does a couple basic things. One of the things it does is it tries to finally do something about the original minority teachers act that took place in 1991. That was not held up to. They did not manage to get the teachers that we wanted to see there. This tries to begin the process on an incremental basis. Get minority teachers into the schools in Oregon. It has a relatively minor goal in my view, but it does have a goal and we can begin to really watch it and check the process. Something we weren't able to do or were not doing, I should say, over the last 22 years.
BP: Part of the bill is that it will bring a larger umbrella under what is considered a minority teacher, including people of different languages.
LF: It includes teachers who have another language as well, of kids who have another language as well who are minorities and are presently not speaking English. That was already part of the other bill and it had some of those other things. This includes another set to basically acknowledge the large number of Eastern European kids who are not only in Portland but across the state.
BP: I was reading another article on this and it said it would include people whose native languages were French, German, Italian—
LF: No, no, no it doesn't. What article did you hear on that?
BP: It was an Oregonian article.
LF: It's a nonsense article. This is the problem I have with the Oregonian. They didn't really ask that. They just decided to assume it. This does not include that. It's specific to kids who are especially in minorities and in minority languages that are in the state of Oregon. Unless you're talking about Haitians, who we do need to speak to. Beyond that, no. Obviously Spanish is a significant component. The only kids that we would be dealing with in terms of German would likely be kids who are Croatian or Bosnian. That's what it's designed to do. It's designed to make sure we're actually addressing the minority kids, both the language minority kids and the ethnic and racial minority kids in the state of Oregon.
BP: With the 1991 act, the original goal was parity, correct?
LF: The original goal was parity and frankly, my goal is parity but at this particular point, I want to get something accomplished. If it's going to be an incremental situation then let's start with an incremental situation. We can yell parity and talk about it as much as possible and get nothing done. This is an attempt to get something done on an incremental basis.
BP: When they were talking about parity before, was that as far as saying, "We have this percentage of minorities so we want this percentage of minority teachers," or did they break it down in specifics?
LF: The original approach was to try to match the number of teachers, the percentage of teachers, with the percentage of kids of certain minority status in the state. That was the original intent and obviously we didn't get anywhere close to it.
BP: I think a lot of the concerns I've heard with this new redefining of the minority teacher is that it could create an atmosphere where you have even less teachers of color. Could you address that?
LF: We checked to make sure that that would not be the case. It will include other kids, other minority teachers than it did before but it does not dilute (Phone cuts out).
You were asking whether it would dilute the ability for the racial minorities to have an impact here. I don't think it will. We will certainly be including other folks in that and in fact, the legal document that we got indicates that that is the case; that this won't change the definition of minority teachers overall. It does call for an increase in the number of minority teachers that speak another language that is not just Spanish, which was one of the languages, or more Chinese or more Vietnamese. We already have those students as well, as part of the discussion.
BP: You said the 1991 measure was not working and people were not tracking it.
LF: You're right. It wasn't working and they weren't tracking it. I think that what we (inaudible) tracking it and I certainly hope others will be tracking it. We have also seen a different group of kids come in since 1991. You've got to recognize that about 1991 is when we started to see a major influx of Eastern Europeans, especially following the Bosnian War. So we had a lot of folks come in from Eastern Europe so that was an important group and also an important situation to try and work with.
BP: You were mentioning legal documents as some of the things in place so people are still pushing to get more teachers in all aspects of minorities. Could you expand upon that, as far as getting more teachers and specific representations as opposed to the broader minority umbrella?
LF: I will tell you that there are folks that are most concerned about the idea that we're not going to get more Black teachers. And I think that's not the case. I think that's one of the things that we need to be carefully watching and pointing out during the time this is in place. We are seeing some support not only for this particular bill but support within the educational establishment as part of, what I've heard from folks like the Governor, like Rudy Crew, like Rob Saxton, like the OEIB, the Department of Education. They have made it clear that is a priority for them. That's fine but that can always go away. It's going to be a matter of people actually watching it and paying attention to it because it's not something that happens because you've written a law. We've already seen that's the case. So we've got to be watching it carefully and being on top of it and seeing just who's being taught, who's being recruited, where they're being recruited, how they're being recruited, trained and retained. All those things are things we've not spent a lot of time on and this bill calls for some of that to take place.
BP: Specifically, we're talking about parity and we're talking about Black teachers in particular. That's important because I think this also relates to the specific issue of the school to prison pipeline. Could you talk about how representation plays into that?
LF: It's very clear that kids are cultural anthropologists. They're trying to figure out where they fit. If they see people that look like them in professional roles, and I mean outside of teachers, also in other professional roles than teachers, they have a better sense of themselves and better sense that they can succeed. We need to be able to recruit people who are actually going to be there and be able to do this (Phone cuts out).
The key thing for me is where we're recruiting. For instance, we were spending a lot of time recruiting in these historically Black colleges and universities. Many of those folks didn't want to come to Oregon and in fact, would not have felt comfortable or fit in, in Oregon. We needed to be looking at people that did not struggle and didn't need a solid black community around them in order to succeed. We need to be working and looking at recruitment in parts of the Midwest and parts of the Northeast as well as in the west. Places where you have Black communities but they're not completely tied to just needing to have a Black community around them because frankly Portland and Oregon doesn't have as solid a Black community as it once did. And we also need to have people who are comfortable here and can do well here. We have some of those folks who are here and we need to be recruiting from that group but we've been recruiting from that group. The Portland Teachers Program has done an extraordinary job but what has happened over the last 22 years is despite the fact that the Portland Teachers Program has managed to bring in teachers and train them, those teachers have gone to work in Vancouver and other places because of the budget cuts that have taken place in Oregon schools, especially in Portland. So we need to start figuring out how we're going to recruit people and retain people and that's what I hope this bill will in fact begin to do.
BP: Is there anything else you'd like to add? It seems like you're not very pleased with the Oregonian article.
LF: The Oregonian article was poorly written in my view and was attempting, as much as possible, to try to make it more of a controversy than it is. The fact is I think we have a bill that will be effective if we are able to keep monitoring it. Otherwise, it sits on the shelf just like the bill of 1991.