From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Alejandra Matos, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Alternative licensing for TFA advances

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: May 9, 2014 - 1:36 PM

The Minnesota Board of Teaching on Friday granted a "discretionary variance" for a proposal by 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 program to move ahead pending a final decision expected to be made by the board 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 proposal for an alternative licensing program employs a 2011 state law that permitted such programs.  That is designed to bypass case-by-case approvals by the board for individuals seeking to teach without a regular state license.  TFA has relied on such workers, who enter classrooms after one summer of training well before they go on earn a full license over the next two years.

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

"We can't rush this," she said. "It's too important." Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius backed the waiver in a statement, calling board consideration of its first alternative licensing application a "significant milestone."

TFA's presence in Twin Cities schools, mostly charter schools, has been controversial among some educators who view the current proposal as devaluing the worth of a four-year teaching degree. But proponents say it actually 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 before they get their own classrooms.

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 fifth year of a blanket waiver from normal licensing requirements, instead forcing schools to seek variances for the TFA corps members on an individual-by-individual basis.  Board Chairman John Bellingham last summer chided TFA for not submitting a formal proposal using the alternative licensing program law.

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