Wrongheaded proposals introduced this legislative session would undermine important gains made in allowing various paths to becoming a teacher in Minnesota.
This is a bad time to dilute or eliminate these alternative paths to teacher licensure. The state is experiencing a teacher shortage, and Minnesota schools need new ways to recruit and retain more teachers of color and educators in specialty subject areas.
Several groups of education administrators oppose the plans (HF1329 and companion SF1557) because they could lose minority teachers they already have. And the changes proposed by several Senate and House Democrats could also make it harder for administrators to hire the educators they need.
Following years of criticism and a scathing 2016 Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) report, lawmakers approved sweeping changes to the licensing system in 2017. One OLA recommendation urged adoption of a tiered licensing system, and lawmakers adopted four tiers.
Tiers 1 and 2 include the alternative criteria. But the changes proposed this year would undo nearly all of the alternative paths, leaving the traditional Minnesota teacher training program as the primary option. Under the proposals, criteria that would be nixed include holding a master’s degree in the content area, or fulfilling at least two of the following: field-specific methods training, two years of teaching experience, and passing scores on content and pedagogy exams.
As the group Ed Allies Minnesota notes, many of the minority educators would be unable to renew their licenses unless they go back to school — regardless of the other training or the years of successful teaching they’ve done. The education equity advocacy group adds that the changes could affect nearly half of the career and technical education teachers in the state.
According to state data, Minnesota has about 67,440 active licensed teachers. Of that total about 4,100, or 6 percent, are educators of color, while nearly 35 percent of the state’s students are kids of color. And nearly a quarter of those teachers of color are licensed under special permissions included in tier 1 or tier 2. If those categories are weakened, 900 educators could lose their ability to teach in state classrooms.
That could happen at a time when the teacher’s union Education Minnesota and many education groups and community members are calling for increasing the numbers of teachers of color. Gov. Tim Walz has included funding for recruiting and retaining minority educators in his education budget.
The licensing process adopted in 2017 was developed by a bipartisan work group of legislators. It created the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) to replace the State Board of Teaching and issue licenses under the tiered system. Even when the bill was signed, then-Gov. Mark Dayton and Education Minnesota expressed concerns about diminished teacher quality.
We believed then and believe now that the adopted rules offer strong requirements to certify educators both through traditional and nontraditional ways. Those who demonstrate that competency and effectiveness over several years under one level of licensure should become eligible for a more permanent license.
Lawmakers shouldn’t rush to change the alternative licensure system so soon after it went into effect. The overhaul should be given a chance to work before undoing hard won provisions that can help the state achieve critical hiring and diversity goals.