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by Editorial board in the Pioneer Press on Saturday, January 23, 2016

Disregard for the will of lawmakers by the state’s Board of Teaching — and now a move to oppose an unfavorable teacher-licensing ruling by a Ramsey County judge — are unacceptable.

Such cavalier actions prompt new concern about whose interests members of the board — appointees of DFL-Gov. Mark Dayton — are serving. Clearly they are not those of Minnesota schools and their students.

Reducing undue barriers that frustrate out-of-state educators seeking regular, renewable licenses to serve in our classrooms is an urgent matter in a state facing teacher-recruiting challenges and a daunting gap in school success that falls along racial lines.

The situation is “incredibly frustrating,” Rep. Jenifer Loon, chair of the House Education Finance Committee, told us. “The Legislature’s been very clear in its directives to the Board of Teaching,” including measures passed in 2011 and 2015 to help clarify pathways to state classrooms.

“Even more confounding to me is their insistence and persistence,” Loon said, in appealing the ruling that the board broke the law when it stopped processing applications for teaching licenses through a portfolio system.

The appeal, however, is “not about whether or not the portfolio is a viable tool,” Erin Doan, the board’s executive director, told us, but rather “that the Ramsey County court is not the appropriate place for that conversation.

Teachers trained out-of-state or in alternative ways see Minnesota’s portfolio licensing system as an important tool for earning a permanent teaching license, the Pioneer Press’ Christopher Magan explained, in reporting on the Dec. 31 ruling, which also rejected claims that district courts do not have jurisdiction over the board’s administrative decision to stop using the portfolio licensing system.

The board has done all it can “to delay implementation, to dodge accountability,” said Daniel Sellers, executive director of the education reform group MinnCAN.

He notes that the ruling from Judge Shawn Bartsch included a Jan. 29 hearing at which the board was to provide an update on its progress.

“As long as the appeal is outstanding, they won’t be held accountable for doing what the judge has ordered them to do,” Sellers told us. “I don’t think they can win; they’re just finding another way to delay.”

When it comes to professional licensing, such tactics raise legitimate questions about whose interests are being served.

“It is increasingly evident that licensing benefits licensees and is enacted and perpetuated only as a pretext for consumer protection,” Lee McGrath, managing attorney at the Institute for Justice Minnesota, told us.

Too often, licenses are imposed for no other reason than to protect industry insiders from competition, he wrote in an op-ed on these pages.

With respect to teacher licensing, he maintains, no one knows better than a school principal “what skills and experience a teacher must have to succeed.”

Those school leaders contend with a shortage of teachers that is “becoming more of a challenge every year,” according to Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

Shortages now extend beyond traditionally harder-to-fill positions — in math, science and special education, for example — to elementary-school positions in some areas, he said, noting that the profession also faces the challenge of finding candidates to fill positions vacated by retiring baby-boomers.

Progress on licensure issues is among short-term solutions, he said, that — without reducing standards — would “actually encourage out-of-state teachers to apply and become teachers in Minnesota.”

McGrath makes another key point about occupational licensing, which he says today amounts to “the importation of 18th-century guilds from Europe for the sole benefit of licensees, trade associations and unions.”

An Education Minnesota spokesman told us the state teachers union had no comment about the Board of Teaching’s decision to appeal.

It’s also been suggested that the vested interest of the state’s higher-education institutions that prepare teachers should not be underestimated.

Cyndy Crist, legislative liaison for the Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, told us the challenges, confusion and arguments in recent years “stem from the fact that we do have in Minnesota a complicated system and a complicated process.”

The state’s rules are “standards-based,” rather requiring completion of specific credits in specific courses, she explains. They define outcomes of courses prospective teachers take, and the institutions determine how to “embed those standards” into their courses.

When somebody comes in from another state, it’s “not an easy process to determine whether or not that candidate has met Minnesota standards,” Crist said. “It’s not as simple as looking at a transcript.”

Doan stresses that the board is responsible for licensing policy, not the full implementation of the licensure process, which is shared with the licensing division of the state’s Department of Education.

Policies and a process that confound lawmakers, out-of-state teachers and the public have no place in a system that should put students first.


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