After hearing from countless school leaders and teachers that Minnesota routinely denies teaching licenses to qualified out-of-state educators, MinnCAN worked with legislators from both sides of the aisle to pass a law to help experienced and passionate teachers do what they love. On Saturday, August 1, 2015, this law will go into effect, opening Minnesota’s doors to experienced teachers in six key ways. Here we highlight those big changes, as well as some of the real teachers they’ll benefit:
1. Recognizing experience and “similar” licenses
Meet Katelyn Knight, who currently holds an early-childhood-to-sixth-grade bilingual generalist license in Texas, where she taught for three years and was licensed to teach in three types of classrooms: bilingual (Spanish and English), general education and English as a Second Language. Despite her training and experience, and the fact that she is currently employed in an urban Minnesota district, which deemed her the most qualified for her position, she has been unable to gain any standard license in Minnesota. Why? Her Texas license does not precisely match with one offered in Minnesota—a barrier created by a strict interpretation of state law.
The new education law gives flexibility to teachers like Katelyn, allowing them to transfer their “similar” licenses to Minnesota.
2. Clarifying who’s qualified
Meet Jessica Breed, a 14-year veteran educator with a K-12 math license from California. As she researched how to transfer her license to her home state of Minnesota this year, Jessica learned about a 2011 law requiring the Board of Teaching (Minnesota’s teacher licensure rule-making agency) to write rules creating a transparent and consistent path for out-of-state teachers. But the application information she found online didn’t seem to give any path to experienced teachers, and she ultimately was instructed to contact a teacher preparation program.
Feeling confused, frustrated and eager to understand her options, at one point Jessica actually turned to an education reporter for answers. She learned that the Board had never established the clear rules the Legislature called for in 2011. Without consistent rules, educators like Jessica have no way to assess whether they qualify for a Minnesota license.
The new education law gives the Board until January 1, 2016 to write and publish new rules to recognize the experiences of teachers licensed in other states. It also increases the Board’s funding by $100,000 over the next two years to cover the costs of writing new rules.
3. Valuing out-of-state training
Meet Kirstin Rogers, who has 12 years of teaching experience and a master’s in education. Upon moving to Minnesota, Kirstin received a two-year, temporary license and was instructed to consult a local teacher preparation program, which told her that she needed to complete redundant coursework to gain her full license. Baffled, Kirstin asked the Minnesota Department of Education how someone with extensive experience and graduate-level training could be unqualified to teach in Minnesota. “It doesn’t work like that in Minnesota,” she was told.
How does it work? Until now, state licensing agencies have simply sent prospective out-of-state teachers like Kirstin to teacher preparation programs, which then decide if a teacher’s training matches what they might have received in Minnesota. Because teacher training varies from school to school—even within Minnesota—out-of-state teacher candidates often get very different answers from different programs.
The new education law removes the requirement that out-of-state teachers’ training be equivalent to that of a Minnesota college or university with the goal of having the Board—not a teacher preparation program—determine whether a teacher is qualified, based on their experiences and preparation.
4. Expanding licensure options
Meet Nicole Bridge. Before moving to Minnesota to work as the Minneapolis Public Schools middle school math coordinator, Nicole taught in district and charter schools in Pittsburgh, Houston and Buffalo. When she began transferring her many math licenses to Minnesota, she was instructed to talk to a local teacher preparation program to see what additional coursework she might need to complete to expand her New York and Pennsylvania seventh-to-twelfth-grade (7-12) math licenses to a 5-12 Minnesota license. Many conflicting messages, two years and $2,000 later, Nicole still could not gain clarity on exactly what courses would unlock her standard Minnesota license.
The new education law requires Minnesota to issue “restricted licenses” to experienced teachers like Nicole, allowing them to teach in the specific grades, subjects and scopes in which they are trained. For those who want full licenses, the law increases the number of temporary, one-year licenses they can receive, giving teachers more time to complete additional requirements. Under the new law, Nicole would be able to teach 7-12 math under a restricted license and have more time to complete coursework to obtain a standard 5-12 Minnesota license.
The law also allows the Board to grant two-year provisional licenses to teachers moving into shortage areas and high-demand licensure fields.
5. No longer requiring redundant student teaching and coursework
Meet Anthony Munsterman, who has been teaching K-12 music for 30 years, including 20 in Minnesota, seven in North Dakota and two in Montana. He has a Minnesota license to teach 5-12 band, general music and orchestra, and previously held K-12 music licenses in both North Dakota and Montana. Despite his vast experience, in order to expand his Minnesota license to cover grades K-4, which he must do in order to keep his K-12 job in Campbell-Tintah, he was instructed to complete additional field specific coursework and student teaching.
The new education law modifies the requirement that teachers take redundant student teaching or field specific courses by waiving the requirement for teachers with at least two years of relevant classroom experience. This will allow seasoned educators like Anthony to continue teaching without the significant interruption and cost of student teaching and unnecessary coursework.
6. Reinstating licensure via portfolio
Meet Joan Dobbert, a dedicated early childhood educator in Mille Lacs County, Minn., who has a bachelor’s and master’s in education, a track record of success with at-risk youth and six years of experience teaching in Minnesota preschool programs accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Joan hopes to obtain a standard early childhood education license by presenting her credentials, accolades and training through a portfolio, a licensure option officially established by law in 2008 to create an alternative pathway to licensure for teachers who have not completed a traditional preparation program. Through it, teachers can obtain initial or additional licenses by submitting a portfolio to demonstrate pedagogical and content competence.
Despite the success of the program, Minnesota’s licensing agencies suddenly and unilaterally discontinued this alternative in 2012, leaving educators like Joan no way to earn a license based on their qualifications and experiences. The new law reaffirms the mandate for licensure via portfolio by requiring the Board of Teaching to provide approvals or detailed denials within 90 days of receiving a portfolio application.
BONUS: Maybe changing the basic skills test
Minnesota requires that all teachers display mastery of college-level math and literacy skills through a set of tests. Unfortunately, this “basic skills test” remains a barrier for many well-trained and otherwise qualified teachers. “A timed, multiple choice test is not a good indicator of whether or not I’m a good teacher,” a kindergarten teacher testified at the Capitol. Many school leaders argue that these tests force great teachers—who are already succeeding in the classroom on temporary licenses—to leave the schools that need them.
The new education law gives the Minnesota Board of Teaching the power to adjust teacher basic skills assessments or adopt new tests and standards all together. While the Board of Teaching makes changes to the test requirements, the education law allows school leaders to request annual restricted licenses from licensing agencies for otherwise qualified teachers who have not passed the assessments. What the Board chooses to do with this responsibility to revamp the basic skills test and streamline licensure for passionate, experienced educators (if anything) remains to be seen.
All in all, the new law sets important parameters to help streamline licensure for passionate, experienced educators. In the coming months, the Board will establish new rules and guidelines determining exactly how they will implement the law, and we’re eager to see Minnesota finally open the door to great teachers from around the country.