U’s Teach for America training plan gets OK

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2014 - 8:33 PM

State Board of Teaching granted variance for alternative licensing program to begin this summer.

The Minnesota Board of Teaching on Friday granted a “discretionary variance” that allows the University of Minnesota and Teach for America to begin an alternative teacher licensing program this summer.

The variance, adopted with one dissenting vote, allows the U to begin an eight-week training session to prepare teachers for the Teach for America (TFA) program. The board is expected to make a final decision in June, according to board staff.

It said it was recommending the variance so that the unapproved teacher preparation program could proceed despite having “remaining unmet standards” that the program must address.

“The program is looking strong at this time,” according to a memo by Erin Dean, the board’s interim executive director.

The U/TFA proposal grows out of a 2011 state law that permits alternative programs for people to enter classrooms before they earn a regular state license. TFA has relied on such workers, who are usually sent into the nation’s neediest classrooms after several weeks of training.

TFA’s presence in Twin Cities schools, mostly in charter schools with low-income students, has been controversial among some educators. Opponents of the current U/TFA proposal see it as devaluing the worth of a four-year teaching degree. But proponents say it gives TFA corps members more upfront supervised time in classrooms — under an experienced teacher — than the current five-week TFA summer program to train teachers. Participants are expected to go on to earn a full license over the next two years.

According to the board of teaching’s staff, the review of the proposal by outside academics has been completed, and the U and TFA staff are in the middle of responding to that feedback. Crystal Brakke, TFA’s Twin Cities director, said she concurred with the delay of full approval.

“We can’t rush this,” she said. “It’s too important.”

TFA’s training plans a June 2 start, before the board next meets. But the academic portion, under which students will eventually accumulate 30 credits, doesn’t begin until mid-June.

The board made waves last year when it balked at granting TFA a blanket waiver from normal licensing requirements after five years of doing so. Instead it forced schools to seek variances for the TFA corps members on an individual-by-individual basis.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib

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