Earlier this month, the Minnesota Board of Teaching voted to deny a request from Teach for America a group variance of up to 45 limited licenses for a new TFA cohort. This decision has garnered much attention, resulting in a mostly inaccurate representation of the actual decision and debate at the meeting.
The issue presented before the board was not a decision on the merits of the Teach for America program. The philosophy behind TFA’s approach and training of its corps members is one that is often debated. There are good-hearted, dedicated people who have a common passion for providing what is best for kids who happen to have differing views on TFA. That kind of debate and conversation is good for the profession. However, that is not what was at the heart of the Board of Teaching meeting and decision.
The request presented was for a group variance of up to 45 temporary licenses. Nothing more, nothing less. A “yes” vote was not an endorsement of any style of teacher preparation method; it simply stated that the board would agree to issue those 45 temporary licenses. A vote of “no” was not a rejection of TFA or shutting a door to TFA operations in the state of Minnesota. Denying the group variance request still allows for those teachers wishing to teach in Minnesota an opportunity to apply for an individual temporary license, just as any other nonlicensed individual would be mandated. It will require schools and districts to meet a series of criteria and provide a more detailed explanation of why they feel an unlicensed individual is needed for a specific teaching vacancy.
It is also worthwhile to note that the request presented was not about alternative routes to licensure. Minnesota statute provides for a board-established process that allows nonprofit entities to apply to operate as an alternative preparation program. The alternative-licensure law was not at issue during the proceedings, as many have inaccurately stated.
It is concerning when terms and phrases such as “union thuggery” and “disregarding the law” are used to distort the facts and ramifications of a decision. It is equally disconcerting when commentaries outright falsify statements made at a meeting, as was the case in a commentary by state Sens. Terri Bonoff and Branden Petersen (“State Board of Teaching needs to her our voices,” June 23) stating that “several members prefaced their June 14 vote by stating: ‘I stand with Education Minnesota.’ ” Not only was there never reference to the state teacher’s union during the debate, but to say so implies that members of an organization are monolithic and incapable of independent views. Teachers’ perspectives on policy are wide and varying.
If we are to provide an equitable education for all our young people, it is up to the adults to move beyond hyperbolic rhetoric and truly work together as professionals.
Ryan Vernosh is a member of the Minnesota Board of Teaching. He was the 2010 Minnesota teacher of the year.