The Minnesota Board of Teaching Friday granted all 38 waivers for “community expert” licensing exemption on its docket, including 16 from Teach For America, and reversed itself on two denials it voted in July.

But the approvals came with a warning from the board’s chair, Waseca teacher John Bellingham, that he “strongly encourages and expects” the entities seeking the variances to propose alternative licensing programs rather than continue to seek exceptions.

Bellingham said that community expert status was never intended to be used as a pathway to licensure. Rather, it’s typically used when someone has a special expertise to contribute in a classroom but has no reason to seek a license, such as a colege professor teaching language in a K-12 school. Commissioner Brenda Cassellius  was even more specific, encouraging TFA to apply for alternative licensure.

The better track record for applicants happened with a somewhat different turnout of board members than last month, while school administrators and applicants packed the boardroom in Roseville and explained the hiring decisions in front of a crowd of applauding supporters.

TFA was forced to seek individual exemptions to the requirement that teachers be licensed when the board voted in June to deny it a blanket exemption that had been granted for four previous school years.  The teacher-dominated board appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton is considered more oriented toward the philosophy of unionized teachers that all teachers should be licensed to ensure classroom quality.

The board has approved a total of 19 TFA applicants this summer, and, TFA has asked the department for another exemption called temporary limited licensure for16 more applicants. That requires at least a college minor in the field an applicant will be teaching.

Teach For America corps members receive intensive summer training before entering classrooms, and continue working toward a full license at Hamline University during their two-year stint.

The board has been ready since early 2012 to take applications for programs in which teachers could be licensed through alternative programs to four years of teacher training at a state-approved college. Crystal Brakke, TFA’s Twin Cities director, said that efforts by the group to do so were hampered last year by a leadership change, and this summer by the extra paperwork needed to win waivers for new TFA corps members.

But repeatedly granting by previous boards of a blanket exemption also provided little incentive for the group to work on alternative licensing. Brakke said the board’s denial of that this year has sped up the group’s timetable. She said she wants to reach agreement with a teaching program this fall and apply to the board for approval by year’s end, expecting board action next spring.

Board members said in denying the blanket waiver that they wanted to review each applicant’s credentials.  They focused mostly on applicants for elementary education jobs outside of language immersion classrooms, noting a surplus of licensed teachers in that field.  They made up 14 of Friday’s applicants.

“We have [licensed] people who are waiting,” said board member Anne Krafthefer, a Duluth elementary teacher, who voted agianst numerous waivers. “We have been an exporter of teachers.”
But supporters of TFA argued that the board shouldn’t substitute its judgment for that of principals and other hiring officials

Another teacher who sits on the board, Michael Larson, prodded schools directly about why they didn’t hire licensed teachers who applied. “None of the 18 were qualified enough to teach at Hiawatha Academies?” he asked school Executive Director Eli Kramer. “Not in our judgment,” Kramer responded.

All five Hiawatha applicants were approved, including two rejected last month. Kramer attributed that to the board getting more information about the applicants.

(Photo above: Commissioner Brenda Cassellius)