Editorial: Joining forces to help state students

  • Updated: March 2, 2011 - 9:15 AM

Compromise will expand alternative teaching licensure.

Star Tribune Editorial

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislators deserve praise for bucking opposition from the powerful teachers union and finally crafting an alternative licensing plan.

They've agreed to a smart compromise that would offer a faster track for aspiring teachers. The Legislature is expected to pass the measure later this week.

Last year, alternative licensing became a contentious issue toward the end of the session and failed. This time around, the administration and legislative committees both wisely gave a little.

Republican leaders agreed to several amendments that the administration wanted, including requiring student teaching for all candidates. And the governor gave in on requiring a link between alternative programs and a higher-education institution.

In a letter to the committee chairs, Dayton wrote: "The definition of compromise is a final solution, in which neither party gets every thing it wants.''

He added that he accepted the differences to accomplish a shared objective: passing reforms that would ''close the achievement gap and raise the educational standard for all Minnesota schoolchildren.''

This is the kind of good-faith negotiating that we hope will be applied to education and other issues as the legislative session continues.

The bill would create a clear pathway for young college grads or midcareer professionals to become teachers.

Teaching candidates would be able to earn two-year limited licenses in order to prepare for earning standard licenses. Applicants will need at least a bachelor's degree, must earn at least a 3.0 GPA and must pass content-competency tests. They'll also need a minimum of 200 hours of classroom preparation.

The new route to teaching would place more responsibility on the state Board of Teaching to review and approve any alternative teacher training program. Candidates could be licensed through an organization other than a college or university -- including a school district or nonprofit -- provided the training program is approved by the board.

Ultimately, the new rules would help school districts with harder-to-fill positions in math, science and other technical areas.

Projected teacher shortages as baby boomers retire in coming years will be easier to handle, and proven programs such as Teach for America will be able to place more graduates.

Alternative licensure can also help professionals of color enter teaching. That's critical in an increasingly diverse state with one of the nation's largest learning gaps between white students and students of color.

The Education Minnesota teachers union continues to object to the change, arguing that standards would be lowered. But administrators in districts like St. Paul, Minneapolis and Chicago say teachers from nontraditional backgrounds often are highly effective.

Union members shouldn't fear they'll be overrun by teachers who take a different route to the classroom.

The vast majority of the state's 50,000-plus full-time teachers will still come from traditional schools of education -- many of which are changing their methods to produce more-effective educators.

Alternative licensure by itself won't close the achievement gap.

But an expansion in Minnesota is worth celebrating as one of several education reforms that can improve the quality of instruction and student performance.

Readers, what do you think? To offer an opinion considered for publication as a letter to the editor, write no more than 250 words to opinion@startribune.com. Include your name and the city where you live.

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  • TWO TAKES

    "We have now just lowered the [teacher] standards to the lowest common denominator of any state in the United States.

    TOM DOOHER, president of the teachers union Education Minnesota

    • • •

    "This is actually going to have higher (GPA and basic skills ) standards for alternatively licensed teachers ...''

    Rep. PAT GARAFALO, R-Farmington, chairman of the House Education Finance Committee

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