Neal Cuthbert: Building a better human capital landscape for Twin Cities teachers

Below is Vice President of Program Neal Cuthbert’s foreword from The Human Capital Landscape for Twin Cities Teachers, a 2013 report on the challenges and opportunities of early literacy education co-commissioned by The McKnight Foundation and University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute.

The Human Capital Landscape for Twin Cities Teachers by Urban Teacher Residency United was co-commissioned by The McKnight Foundation and Urban Education Institute in FFT_UTRU_Thumbnail2013. We are releasing it publicly now as part of McKnight’s “Food for Thought” series — a collection of independent essays to help inform our understanding of the fields in which we operate and our related program strategies.

McKnight’s program focus on early literacy supports efforts to dramatically increase the percentage of 3rd-grade readers in the Twin Cities, especially among populations underserved in our schools. We support and promote the development of effective teachers and leaders, successful schools, and aligned pathways bridging PreK and K-12. In partnership with the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, we engage deeply in seven Twin Cities schools, deploying evidence-based supports that put each of our program strategies into practice. Our own work in the schools affirms a growing body of research, such as Wallace Foundation’s How leadership influences student learning, finding that the teachers and leaders who work with our children are the most important in-school influences in ongoing student achievement.

So it stands to reason that recruiting, preparing, supporting, and retaining these individuals to ensure students receive the best possible instruction should be a primary focus of any effective educational ecosystem — but Minnesota’s human capital landscape for teachers remains complex and fragmented. As this report reveals, there remain significant discrepancies between the expectations for early childhood educators versus those for elementary and secondary teachers. We have few (if any) strong metrics to gauge the quality of teacher preparation programs. And the number of teachers of color in Minnesota remains staggeringly low — in fact, Minnesota’s pool of teaching candidates has grown less diverse over time.

Photo: Urban Education Institute

Photo: Urban Education Institute

Nonetheless, Minnesota has made tremendous progress in the year or so since we first commissioned this report. In 2014, the Minnesota Board of Teaching approved our state’s first ever alternative certification program, a partnership between Teach For America and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and the Department of Education has improved the process for granting reciprocity to out-of-state teaching candidates. We’re pleased that some of this report’s closing suggestions are already being actively addressed. At the same time, we believe the data and recommendations provided here — some of which will sound familiar to education advocates, and some of which would break new ground in the Twin Cities — merit continued sharing and discussion.

Every day we support and learn from hardworking teachers across the Twin Cities. We recognize their impact on students, and we therefore hold them to very high standards. At the same time, we see the need to provide these teachers with high supports, delivered early and often, to ensure that Minnesota’s students receive the best instruction possible. We hope this Food for Thought edition gives readers a clearer sense of who Minnesota’s teacher candidates are, and what we can do to better prepare them for the demands of their future classrooms.


NIC_mck0103_cNeal Cuthbert
Vice President of Program