From neighborhood schools to our State Capitol, these words pervade our communities. As they should. And it’s not every day that we have a simple, yet meaningful opportunity to do right by Minnesota educators.
In recent weeks, legislators have been entertaining a measure to better support new teachers by ensuring that they train with and learn from our strongest veteran educators for their student teaching experience. This would help us get the best teacher in every classroom.
But due to political haste in the House, the fate of the student teacher bill is now entirely up to the Senate.
In order to be great, our teachers need mentorship from effective educators at the onset of their careers.
Unfortunately, before they left for break, members of the House voted down this measure that would place student teachers with strong teacher mentors — as determined by well-rounded teacher evaluations. Rep. Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield, authored the bill, and Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, introduced it as an amendment. Both are former public schoolteachers.
Supporters of the legislation see it as a concrete opportunity to improve our schools by replicating best classroom practices and helping educators who aren’t ready to mentor student teachers to focus on their own professional development.
But a handful of vocal legislators saw the bill differently — and prevented their colleagues from hearing it in any relevant committee or debating it in an open, meaningful and productive way.
Erickson introduced the measure as an amendment on the House floor, in a last-ditch effort to give it space for discussion. Still, opponents forced a vote within two minutes. For a bipartisan, straightforward bill that hundreds of Minnesotans have supported through e-mails and calls to their legislators, two minutes of debate doesn’t seem like enough. The amendment failed.
Opponents argue that it’s premature to base student teacher placements on teacher evaluations — which roll out statewide in a few months — and that by suggesting that certain veteran teachers are more effective than others, the bill is “punitive” to struggling educators.
In 2013, MinnCAN, a statewide education nonprofit working in partnership with local leaders and educators to improve our schools, sought to find out from teachers what would help them and their students excel.
Through dozens of school visits, town hall meetings and a comprehensive statewide poll of 400 district teachers, these partners found that many of the state’s highest-performing public schools have been using teacher evaluations for years. And educators believe that, if used effectively, evaluations can advance student achievement: According to MinnCAN’s poll, 89 percent of teachers said purposeful evaluations will strengthen student learning.
The student teacher placement bill represents an opportunity to do just that — tie the results of professional evaluations to the development of student teachers, while giving veteran teachers who need additional support the time to focus on their own growth.
The arguments against the student teacher bill disregard that educators want to leverage evaluations to elevate teaching and learning. They overlook, too, that implementation of the bill would begin in the 2017-18 school year, giving our schools three years to roll out their evaluation systems, or in many cases, to tweak existing models.
In a tense political climate, the student teacher placement bill is an opportunity for bipartisan progress. In both chambers, DFL and Republican legislators authored the bill. And in the House, members from both parties voted in favor of it.
We thank these leaders for demonstrating that this important bill has support on both sides of the aisle. Now, we encourage members of the Senate to take it a step further: Give the student teacher placement bill a proper hearing and debate it publicly and honestly.
Listen to the hundreds of Minnesotans who have already voiced their support for this bill, like Minneapolis public schools veteran teacher Holly Kragthorpe, who calls it “common-sense and necessary.”
If we’re serious about supporting Minnesota teachers — and, by extension, their students — this solution is exactly what that looks like.
Lee-Ann Stephens, 2006 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, is an educator in the St. Louis Park public schools and a MinnCAN board member. Ben Whitney, former U.S. ambassador to Norway, is MinnCAN’s board chairman.