One school district hiring official says some excellent out-of-state teacher candidates won't even apply for a license in Minnesota because the process involves "too many hoops'' to jump through. Yet another says unreasonable testing and licensing rules exacerbate teacher shortages in some subject areas.
Those are among dozens of comments from state school district officials collected by MinnCan, an education reform advocacy group. As a result, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have introduced measures that would streamline and clarify the teacher licensing process. The bills include using nontraditional assessments, portfolios and prior experience as criteria for a license.
That's reasonable and consistent with alternative licensure legislation that was approved by the Legislature in 2011. Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, and Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, are sponsoring proposals aimed at re-examining the methods used by the Minnesota Board of Teaching to grant licenses to teachers with previous experience in other states.
To the board's credit, there has been progress since 2011. According to Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) figures, the number of approved out-of state licenses grew from 20 percent of the total number issued in 2009 to 39 percent in 2013. Still, proposed legislation this year would strengthen the state's commitment to licensing educators who can demonstrate that they have been effective in other states.
Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, says that the state should continue to have high licensing standards but that it can adjust current rules to make them clearer and more consistent and objective. A recent MDE survey on teacher supply and demand offered reasons why the issue needs attention. The survey found that 65 percent of school administrators said licensing and other rules are barriers to hiring effective teachers. And 87 percent said those same requirements interfere with retaining good educators.
School district hiring officers said they expect vacancies in hard-to-fill areas such as math, chemistry physical science and special education will get even worse if the state fails to make licensure less complicated and expensive.
In addition, current practice can have a negative effect on diversity. As the report points out, more than 30 percent of state kids are students of color, while only 3.8 of state school staff members are teachers of color. The current licensure system makes it difficult for districts to recruit teachers from historically black colleges, tribal colleges, institutes that serve Hispanic kids and alternative certification programs in other states.
Lawmakers should guard against any changes that would hurt teacher quality. But by making smart adjustments to licensing rules, Minnesota schools would have more flexibility to hire educators who best address student needs.