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by Editorial board in the Pioneer Press on Saturday, July 4, 2015

Who are we to think “our way” of preparing teachers in Minnesota is so superior to everyone else’s?

As we prepare for a new school year in a state facing teacher-recruiting challenges and a nation-leading achievement gap between our white students and our students of color, it’s an urgent question.

Ours is a state where undue hurdles frustrate out-of-state educators seeking regular, renewable licenses to teach in our classrooms. Candidates say state requirements are inconsistent, that the process is not transparent and that credentials from other states are routinely rejected, sometimes without rational basis, a Pioneer Press report last week said.

Many Minnesotans, including Gov. Mark Dayton, routinely tell us that failure to streamline regulatory and permitting processes puts business growth in peril. It’s time to apply the same urgency when it comes to getting qualified teachers into our classrooms.

Yet the issue has remained before Minnesotans for years. While we fiddle with regulations, students suffer.

An alternative teacher licensure bill, intended to help smooth pathways to Minnesota classrooms, was the first measure Dayton signed into law when he assumed office in 2011. Only the path didn’t get much smoother, contend reformers, who have persevered, both in court and at the Capitol.

A suit filed this spring in Ramsey County contends that the state’s Board of Teaching, which oversees licensure policy, consistently refuses to follow Minnesota law, arbitrarily denying licenses to “well-qualified teachers who clearly meet the statutory requirements.”

A key aspect of new legislation, passed in the recent special legislative session, gives the board a hard deadline — Jan. 1 — to write new rules relating to out-of-state licensure, said Daniel Sellers, executive director of the education reform group MinnCAN.

The board, appointed by the governor, includes members of the public, classroom teachers, teacher-education faculty and school board and administration representatives, some of whom, it’s been suggested, may have a vested interest in retaining the status quo.

The board also is the subject of an investigation by the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor.

From the board’s perspective, “We are going to proceed with all haste,” its executive director, Erin Doan, said in the Pioneer Press. With limited staff and resources, she noted, the board has worked hard to comply with changes in state law.

Meanwhile, teacher recruiting is under way and will continue through Labor Day, Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, told us.

His message, in testimony to state lawmakers based on the just-completed school year: “The shortage is real,” and it extends beyond Greater Minnesota into some parts of the metro area. It also extends 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 searching for candidates to fill positions vacated by retiring baby-boomers.

From school superintendents, Amoroso told us, he’s heard of candidates from other states who “would either try to come in and get licensed and were unsuccessful” or would need to “pay significant amounts” for additional college courses.

Others, “because of what they had heard about the procedures and the protocol to get licensed, would not even apply. And that was becoming very damaging,” he said, to districts’ ability to “find qualified people.”

The Pioneer Press also reported last week on state Department of Education findings that the state’s neediest schools have the least-experienced and least-qualified teachers.

Why, then, not do all we can to speed qualified teachers into our classrooms? Can’t we trust good-faith efforts in other states to produce the best possible teachers for their young people? Isn’t the risk a reasonable one?

“I don’t know if I would go quite that far,” Sellers told us. “I would just say that licensure — this is what I’m really trying to get people to understand — is just the floor.”

To be hired by a school district, he observes, a candidate would go through its vetting process, from checking references to professional evaluations, student achievement data and more.

Meagan Forbes, an attorney at the Minnesota office of the Institute for Justice, put it this way in a commentary on these pages this spring: “As much as we in Minnesota pride ourselves as being a special state, we’re not so different from the rest of the country that teachers from other states are unqualified to teach our students. Considering that children learn similarly across state lines, there is no reason for this type of protectionist measure.”

Nor is it a question of reducing standards, Rep. Jenifer Loon, chair of the House Education Finance Committee, reminds us. “We’re simply looking for a system that is sensible, that is streamlined.”


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