Josh Crosson is MinnCAN’s advocacy manager.

There’s been a lot of conversation locally and nationally on doing more to train, prepare and support teachers. From the National Council on Teacher Quality’s lengthy research on education colleges–the good, the bad and everything in between–to President Obama’s new measure to reform teacher preparation programs, our nation is realizing there’s a lot more we can do to make sure teachers enter the classroom ready for success.

At home, we were proud to have worked on a piece of legislation–the ‘student teacher placement bill’–to ensure future teachers are placed with highly effective, veteran educators for their 10-week student teaching clinical experience. Unfortunately, our bill failed this legislative session.

This was a great bill, authored by Democrats in a DFL Legislature, which 1,000–plus Minnesotans rallied behind, but legislative leadership never gave it a chance to be discussed in committee and shot it down on the floor after 15 minutes of debate.

The play-by-play
To help teachers receive mentorship from effective educators at the onset of their careers, Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL-50A) authored the bill and Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-15A) introduced it as an amendment. Both are former public school teachers.

After Rep. Slocum’s caucus prevented her from hearing the bill in committee, Rep. Erickson introduced it as an amendment on the House floor–a last-ditched effort to give it space for discussion. Still, opponents forced a vote within two minutes. For a bipartisan, straightforward bill that many Minnesotans have supported through emails and calls into their legislators, two minutes of debate doesn’t seem like enough. The amendment failed.

Despite Rep. Slocum and Rep. Erickson’s efforts to pass the legislation, the amendment failed with 54 members voting in support and 67 members opposing the legislation. (Access the vote count.)

By way of background, the legislation deemed a quality mentor teacher as someone who had at least three years of teaching experience and who does not fall into the lowest evaluation rating after a three-year review. Rep. Kathy Brynaert (DFL-19B) led the opposition arguing that we should not plan to use educator evaluation results before the fall 2014 rollout of the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

Rep. Brynaert failed to recognize that educator evaluations have already been implemented in many school districts, and that the implementation of the student teacher placement legislation was set for the 2017–18 school year, giving ample time for the teacher evaluation rollout. Moreover, Rep. Brynaert and the opposition failed to recognize the importance of the policy and instead argued against the process. Ultimately, the majority leadership in both chambers were unwilling to have a hearing on this bill, and so the merits of the bill have never really been discussed.

The arguments against process also seem to be inconsistent with how the Legislature currently conducts business. Policymakers often amend and add to laws before their full implementation. These additions advance good policy and give practitioners enough time to implement the changes. Pre-K learning scholarships, for example, rolled out last year and currently provide money to low-income families and quality early learning programs (quality defined by the program’s Parent Aware rating, a system that’s still being implemented statewide).

Much of the same in the Senate
Bill author Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-36), too, was unable to advance this concept in his caucus–preventing him from even having the bill heard in committee. In a last-ditched effort, Sen. Branden Petersen (R-35) ultimately introduced the legislation as an amendment to the larger Omnibus Education Policy bill on the Senate Floor. Like the House, leadership and opposition prevented meaningful discussion on the merits of the legislation and killed the bill. (Click here to see the vote count.)

We thank Reps. Slocum and Erickson, and Sens. Hoffman and Petersen for their leadership in attempting to pass legislation that would benefit our future teaching corps.

Teachers across the state praised the legislation as a positive step in elevating our teaching corps. A seventh-grade teacher at Minneapolis’ Ramsey Middle School, Holly Kragthorpe, said, “Student teacher placements are critical for new teachers. I was extremely fortunate to have had a high-quality placement—in fact, years later, my mentor continues to support me. But not all student teachers have an experience that positively impacts their career—and the success of their students.”

The Minnesota Legislature had the chance to ensure a quality clinical experience for all of our student teachers, joining states like Illinois, Massachusetts and Rhode Island that have implemented similar laws.

Like two of our board members penned in a Star Tribune op-ed last week, the student teacher placement bill offered a real chance of bipartisanship this legislative session. “If we’re serious about supporting Minnesota teachers—and, by extension, their students,” they added, “this solution is exactly what that looks like.”


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