Opinion: ‘Last-in, first-out’ isn’t equitable for teachers of color

The importance of teachers of color in the classroom improves outcomes for both students of color as well as white students, the author writes. Motoya Nakamura /The Oregonian

As the state of Oregon wrestles with hundreds of millions of expected budget cuts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Oregonian published an opinion piece by Toya Fick, Meyer's board chair and the executive director of Stand for Children on the importance of teachers of color -- and the need to prioritize maintaining representation across the ranks of teachers.

Toya called on Oregon to reconsider its seniority-based layoff system to preserve hard-won increases in teachers of color:

Prioritizing the hiring of teachers of color doesn’t just benefit students of color, for whom the value of representation is well documented. Having teachers of color is critical to white students as well, who benefit from seeing people of color in leadership roles and are able to build personal connections that break down the inherent biases we all carry.

In fact, in 2016, researchers published a study that found that students of all races looked more favorably on teachers of color versus white teachers. Those favorable perceptions can translate into better academic outcomes including interest, motivation and even grades. Better representation and diversity among teachers directly translates to student success. This is especially critical as Oregon strives to improve our graduation rates, which have historically been among the worst in the nation.

Now, amidst statewide reductions of $2.7 billion in the current biennium and $4.4 billion in the 2021-23 budget period, our path to racial equity is facing roadblocks. Oregon law requires schools to consider a seniority-based layoff system, commonly referred to as “last-in, first-out," which prioritizes keeping teachers with seniority on staff and laying off the newest hires. This policy directly conflicts with efforts in recent years to hire teachers of color and close the race gap that has long troubled Oregon schools.

You can read the entire piece here.