As a classroom teacher, policy changes passed down by elected officials can sometimes be frustrating. But what’s even worse is when unelected officials not only impose changes to your classroom, but push you right out. Unfortunately, a situation like the latter is on the horizon for many successful educators.
In a move that I believe is misguided and entirely avoidable, the Higher Learning Commission, an accreditation agency that accredits colleges and universities in 19 states including Minnesota, is poised to push countless Minnesota teachers out of the classroom, and with them, opportunities for our students. While the HLC recently decided to allow schools to request delays until 2022 to comply with the change, the new requirement will still be a death knell for concurrent enrollment programs in many schools, whether it comes in several years or in a few.
For background, the HLC has called for teachers in all concurrent enrollment programs—such as Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) and College in the Schools—to have a master’s degree and at least 18 graduate credits in their discipline. For over 30 years, Minnesota’s concurrent enrollment options have provided high school students the opportunity to take college-credit bearing courses taught by college-approved high school teachers.
By pushing experienced and successful teachers out and effectively closing this educational option, we’ll lose a tremendous stepping stone to high school graduation and secondary degrees for many of our students. Simply put, this decision is not student-friendly, cost-effective or logical. And it speaks to the deep interconnectivity of education, because it will bring negative outcomes for students, high schools, colleges and communities.
What's more, I worry that this change will be particularly harmful to students of color, who benefit greatly from concurrent enrollment. In fact, research by the Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota State College and University System found that while only about 58 percent of black students graduated from a Minnesota high school during the 2012-13 school year, graduation rates for black students spiked to 87 percent when they took college-level concurrent enrollment courses in high school or on a college campus. Similar instances of significantly improved high school graduation rates were found among Latino and American Indian students, as well as students from low-income families.
Closing concurrent enrollment programs would remove a vital connection to higher education for our most historically underserved students. The HLC’s decision does not remove college altogether, of course, but it does remove the opportunity for students to take the first step by exploring college-level rigor in a familiar setting with familiar people. Taking that first step is the most important step.
Unsurprisingly, the HLC’s proposal has caught a great deal of attention from many organizations, including the Minnesota Rural Education Association, which represents over 200 Greater Minnesota school districts. In his Oct. 6 Star Tribune op-ed, MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan clarified many of the arguments against the HLC’s move, which will also hit Greater Minnesota schools hard, where teacher shortages are bad enough already.
Students of color, small schools…you would think we’d be trying to support these groups, not make things more difficult for them.
Also baffling is that, under the HLC’s proposed law, I would have colleagues who can teach graduate credits to fellow teachers but would not be qualified to teach undergraduate credits to high school students.
I am all for solid accreditation but we need a wider lens, beyond just coursework, to determine whether an instructor is qualified. And, if we decide on a new threshold, we need to provide resources to ensure that current and successful educators can reach it.
Without stakeholder buy-in and input, and funding and time to ensure that any changes are successful, the HLC’s plan is incomplete. Together with teachers, students and parents, at both the high school and college levels, the HLC should go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that will change credential requirements reasonably and logically, all while maintaining the successful and important concurrent enrollment programs Minnesota schools have proudly offered for decades. A step in the wrong direction—even if delayed—is still a step in the wrong direction.
Lee Carlson taught high school English for over twenty years before becoming the continuing improvement specialist at Northside Elementary in St. James, Minn. He’s a former national director for the Cushing’s Support and Research Foundation and state corporate president for Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership, and currently serves as a board member of Education Minnesota, the Minnesota Rural Education Association and Minnesota Education Equity Partnership. Lee’s interested in just about everything—especially hanging out with his wife (who teachers fifth-grade) and three children—but mostly blogs about equity in education, teacher development, leadership and building partnerships.
The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows' views and opinions are solely their own.