New Licenses Stand To Shake Up Minn. Classrooms

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota schools could soon get an infusion of new young teachers who reach the classroom without attending the state’s traditional teaching colleges as part of an alternative licensing proposal moving through the Legislature.

Backers say the idea, already in place in most states, offers a chance for Minnesota to finally make progress on a stubborn achievement gap that has separated white and minority students.

Besides letting organizations other than Minnesota colleges or universities issue teaching licenses, the proposal before lawmakers would halve the required student teaching time, to about five weeks.

Unlike in some states, Minnesota’s legislation isn’t aimed at bringing mid-career professionals into the classroom. Instead, it’s much more likely to boost programs such as Teach for America, a national program that puts a select group of fresh college graduates through a crash teaching course and then places them in impoverished schools. The legislation would make it easier for such programs to operate here.

The program emphasizes racial diversity. “The reality is that in the state of Minnesota right now we have a horrible achievement gap, but there are schools that are getting great results,” said Rep. Patrick Garofalo, the Farmington Republican who sponsored the House bill. “When you talk to those people who run those schools, when you talk to those people who are winning and literally saving kid’s lives, they say this works.”

Critics fear that some children could fare poorly under inexperienced teachers, a concern expressed by Gov. Mark Dayton last week in a letter urging changes in the legislation. The state teachers union is also urging more restrictions than in the current legislation.

Dayton, a Democrat, wrote that the alternative programs should partner with teaching colleges and universities. He also said the bill didn’t do enough to ensure that high school teachers who win such alternative licenses have enough background in their subjects.

“The simple fact is that teachers can’t teach what they don’t know,” Dayton wrote.

Supporters say enthusiastic teachers like Erin Gavin will do fine. Gavin, 23, is in her final year of a two-year tour with Teach for America at a low-performing Brooklyn Park school where more than three-quarters of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches. One recent weekday, Gavin didn’t appear to lack any tricks for leading her seventh-grade class through a writing exercise.

The class of mostly black girls struggled and drifted off topic, but Gavin kept bringing them back with a quiet word or, at several points, a sort of clapping call-and-response game.

“I walked into that classroom on the first day (last year) feeling as though I had been rigorously trained and had a really unprecedented support network ready to help me and my students succeed,” she said after class.

Garofalo said the changes could encourage programs similar to Teach for America to move into the state. Any new licensing program would need the approval of the state Board of Teaching.

All Minnesota teachers would still need a bachelor’s degree and would have to pass tests in basic academic skills and in their area of expertise. The U.S. Department of Education also backs the concept.

In January, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told business leaders in Minneapolis, “We need to open this up and get great talent, wherever that talent may come from.”

The lack of alternative pathways cost Minnesota points in last year’s federal Race to the Top grant competition worth millions of dollars.

Teach for America has about 90 teachers in Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis public schools and metro-area charter schools out of about 68,000 traditionally trained teachers in the state. People in the Teach for America program get waivers from the state Board of Teaching and continue to take classes through Hamline University in St. Paul.

Daniel Sellers, executive director of Teach for America-Twin Cities, said it’s a cumbersome process.

If the bills became law, he said, it would provide a stable regulatory foundation on which his group could expand. Minnesota is one of the few states that don’t have such policies.

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, 42 states have licensing programs outside colleges and universities. Their requirements vary. But there are doubters.

“The research foundation is very weak,” said Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University. “At the moment, we don’t know if university-based teacher education programs or alternative providers are stronger.”

He applauded Teach for America for attracting bright young adults who normally wouldn’t consider teaching, but said he was concerned those people stay in teaching for an average of two years.

He said a five-week training program isn’t enough to prepare them for the disadvantaged students the group serves. “We’re giving kids who need the best teachers in the country, rookies who are only going to stay two years and by the time they learn their trade, they will be leaving,” Levine said. “That is not a good thing to do.”

Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, supports an alternative licensing plan with more restrictions, more supervision and a requirement that the new teachers only teach in their college major — a condition missing from the plan approved by the Legislature.

“Our students deserve better,” said union President Tom Dooher.

Nonetheless, Brooklyn Center Superintendent Keith Lester is sold on Teach for America teachers for his secondary school, which is in a federally funded turnaround program for the nation’s lowest performing schools. He has hired four of them.

“They are such perfectionists and they work so hard,” he said. Gavin said she might be among the two-thirds of Teach for America teachers stay in education — which includes teaching, school administration and policy work. “It has been far more rewarding than I anticipated,” she said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Anne

    I think the alternative licensing is such a wonderful idea. It will bring folks with real world experience into the classroom to educate students from a different perspective. We need this in our schools!

    • Elizabeth

      Really? “Real world experience” at 23 yrs old?

  • Diana

    The achievement gap is not about teachers – iit’s about kids who are prepared and parents who support them in doing the hard work of school. It is about poverty and food and kids knowing where they will sleep at night. The achievment gap is not about race – it is about poverty and the committment of all adults in the life of a child to support that child to succeed.

    When we can deliver that – we will close the achievement gap.

  • l wilson

    I just went to Hamline and spent $35,000 to get my teaching license. There are no jobs! I think this is a ridiculous solution. There are plenty of teachers.

    • rachel tanner

      I couldn’t agree more, I Wilson. If there were a shortage of teachers, licensed teachers would support an alternative program requiring a training period under the supervision of an experienced educator. But there is no such shortage, and the young people from Teach for America contribute zero “real world experience.” Why is it so easy to discount those who are committed to the teaching profession and bring years of experience to the classroom? In urban school districts, classroom management skills are every bit as needed as content area knowledge. And let’s be honest about the sorry state of schol financing: The primary reason many school districts hire TFA is to save money.

  • dunnski57

    I wilson is correct. There is no shortage of people with teaching licenses in Minnesota. Many layoffs will be coming this spring as school budgets continue to get squeezed so there will be even more teachers on the job search with few openings. So where are these “alternate licensed” teachers going to work?

    • rachel tanner

      Where will they work, dunnski57? Anywhere they want, since they are much less expensive for districts to hire. TFA poses a threat to licensed educators on so many levels…

  • commonman11

    For every job opening in our district there are several HUNDRED applicants.

  • AnneB

    So will the state also allow enthusiastic and handy college graduates to do plumbing and electrical work for disadvantaged homeowners who can’t afford real professionals? Poor kids more than enthusiastic teachers. Dunnski57 is right, they need food and housing and parents who read to them and teach them the alphabet and make sure they are ready to learn. Teachers can’t spend a few hours a day making up for years of poverty.

  • Good Grief

    LOWERING teacher standards is going to close the achievement gap?? Good grief people! Why are we bending over backwards to accommodate a group such as Teach for America? Plenty of people are dying for good teaching jobs.

    We need to RAISE the standards and support early childhood literacy programs. Parents need to be involved.

  • getaclue

    Wonderful…a teacher can get her students to write. Is that really raising our standards? Wow. Tell you what…Anyone out there want to go to a doctor that took a 5 week course and knows how to fill out a prescription? Then why would you put the education and future of our children in the hands of a fast track teacher? We all know the answer.

    • rachel tanner

      Good point, getaclue. Gavin must be quite an amazing addition at Brooklyn Park.

  • Saywhat?

    I can see this helping in a support type setting. Like a special reading/writing or math class for kids at risk or below grade level that don’t qualify for special ed. But to replace a teacher in a classroom with person with any college degree and 5 weeks training is not the answer.

  • Chris K

    What is so bad about trying somwthinh new here? Minnesota does have a great public school system if you are white. However, we also have one of the worst achievment gaps in the country and a very stubborn & unresponsive uniom standing in the way of reaching those who need it most.

  • gtV

    Here we go again! Another workable educational solution that gets muddled-up with politics. Alternative ‘adjunct’ teachers and teaching programs work. When one only looks to a very professional nationally recognized and working adjunct faculty that Metropolitan State University has utilized for over forty years you see the results with various student demographics. Now take the same teaching philosophy down to the elementary, junior high, and senior high schools.

    With all the mid-age and older degreed professionals, who could bring real-world, real-life mature experiences to the classroom. Just think what the results would be for those young folks who need to be challenged with gaining an education.

    The present MN teaching licensure system doesn’t allow for a maturer individual with a degree, who has utilized and/ work in that degree major, to teach without getting 2 to 2 1/-2+ years additional education. In most cases a Masters Degree in Education with administration emphasis results! That doesn’t include the licensure or student teaching requirements.

    For a true alternative teaching licensure program. A year of concentrated coursework in teaching methodology, teaching principles, social & youth psychology, and student teaching time make a tried and true tested adjunct style alternative teaching program. Also, the adjunct teacher will be under the aegis and tutelage of a mentor, for a set period, to help the teacher attain success with district’s educational goals. If the prospective teacher wants to work for career tenured status then further qualifications may be applicable

    The system works, now if only MN comes to the fore and implements this program. It’s time for progress and challenging the young minds of the future.

  • Future Teacher

    As a soon-to-be-licensed teacher this June, I find this proposed legislation absolutely atrocious. In my opinion, it devalues college and university teaching degrees. There are some of us out there (especially at the University of Minnesota) who are putting 5 YEARS of our lives into becoming teachers, not 5 WEEKS. Yes, years – 4 years of undergraduate coursework and 1 year of graduate coursework 1 year of experience in a student teaching classroom and hundreds of hours spent piloting the state’s new Teacher Performance Assessment criteria. And all so the government can give somone 5 weeks and say that they are just as qualified as my peers and I to do our jobs? I don’t think so. Minnesota, you can do better.

  • sbj

    A teacher shortage in Minnesota? Not in any part of the state that I know of. Real world experience does not “come” to a 23 year old. That has to be earned.
    I also am intrigued that this current legislation is sponsored by a Republican from Farmington. I didn’t know that there was an achievement gap in Farmington!

  • Tom

    Well the school system in my area would jump at this as a way to lower there costs, they’re constantly complaining about budget shortages. Then looking into things i’ve noticed that they cut workers to alleviate the budget strain yet administration has incomes of 98,000 to 118,000 per year with stipends and car allowances of up to 35,000. There are school vehicles being driven on the weekends to department stores halling the teacher or admin person driving it with tax payer dollars, yet they cut jobs for kitchen staff and janitorial and a few teaching positions. If these administrative personal would drop there car allowances there would have been at least ten positions saved. They have dropped many classes from the rosters over the past couple years and any sports program has fees attatched to them.Another thing is that in 2008 when the referendum for more taxes for the school failed the schools respense was to put an add in the back of the local paper to state that the school would no longer offer a referendum but rather will just have the school board complete an internal vote then let the public know if they require more money, they will no longer offer it to the public just take what they see fit. Our school system needs a major overhaul.
    But i personally don’t think under edjucated non traditional liscences teachers that are paid less to teach is the right thing to do. This would just open up more problems and limit edjucational opportunities for the youth. We have enough limitations already.

  • MN parent

    As a parent who has dealt with many different teachers if a few different districts, I think we need to look at what is wrong with the teachers who are already employed in the state of Minnesota. I think there needs to be a review of the teachers in the class room today. When my son was in 3rd grade, he teacher was selling candy bars in class to help put her son thru college. I guess she thought it was ok that the children spend their lunch money on supporting her son’s college education. Or more recently, the school my daughter went to couldn’t even take basic attendance. As a parent, I expect the school to know where my child is and what they are doing. I think teachers and ALL school staff need to be reviewed as any other employee would be, they shouldn’t keep their job just because of tenure.

  • Children First

    You are right on – I have been an educator for 30 years and know that the teacher is the one who makes the difference – we have too many unhappy, incompetent teachers in the classroom who need to find another profession

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