At last, the Legislature is moving toward fixing Minnesota’s confusing, overly complicated process to become a classroom teacher. Though some specifics are yet to be worked out, lawmakers are rightly poised to make much-needed changes.
Nearly a year ago, an evaluation by the Office of the Legislative Auditor found that the state’s teacher licensing system was broken. It called the licensing rules complex and confusing and said that multiple exceptions leave too much room for loopholes and inconsistent standards.
Part of the problem, the auditor noted, was that two agencies have overlapping responsibilities for licensing — the state Board of Teaching and the Department of Education (MDE). The board is supposed to set standards for candidates, while the Education Department issues licenses. Over time, the lines between the two became blurred; consequently, the auditor said, accountability “is diffuse and decisionmaking is not always transparent.”
To fix the licensing morass, the auditor made several recommendations for legislative action — including consolidating all licensing activities under one state entity. Other action items included rewriting state statutes on licensing requirements to make them clearer. And in cases when licenses are denied, the governing body should clearly spell out why.
Following the auditor’s lead, a bipartisan study group of state lawmakers made strong recommendations in two areas — governance and tiered licensure. Co-chaired by Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, and Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, the group agreed that licensing should be done by one entity. Still, lawmakers are having ongoing discussions about which one — MDE or a stand-alone, appointed professional board.
The study group also agreed that the state should adopt a tiered licensing system that would offer several pathways to obtaining a license. Those tiers could include allowing licensing in emergency situations when districts have difficulty hiring, making it easier for teachers already licensed elsewhere to get a Minnesota license, clarifying alternative and portfolio pathways, and allowing life-time licenses for retired educators so that they can work part time.
Fixing the state’s tangled educator licensing system is especially needed in light of the growing teacher shortage. An MDE report released last week documented that the number of teachers leaving their jobs for other fields, retirement or other reasons had increased 46 percent since 2008. After three years, more than a quarter of teachers leave their jobs, and about 15.1 percent quit after the first year.
Making licensing criteria clearer will also help districts recruit more teachers of color as student populations become increasingly diverse.
It’s encouraging that lawmakers are on the right track toward streamlining licensing, maintaining high standards and helping schools hire the professionals they need to educate Minnesota kids.