Imagine this: you live in a state with the lowest graduation rate in the nation for American Indian and Latino students and second worst for black students, a state which faces large teacher shortages and where teachers of color constitute only 4 percent of the work force, yet 29 percent of students identify as people of color.
Actually, stop imagining. This is the state of education in Minnesota and it’s not pretty.
It’s time for Minnesota to take targeted action towards reducing these stark inequalities, and I believe alternative teacher preparation programs remain a viable option to help us do so. By providing a nontraditional pathway into teaching, alternative certification programs can help Minnesota maintain high standards and increase teacher effectiveness, address statewide teacher shortages and recruit more educators of color.
Many alternative certification programs help teachers learn content and pedagogy while getting practical experience in the classroom. So, does this model work? Research suggests that it does. For example, a March 2015 independent study from Mathematica found that during a scale up in the 2012-2013 school year, corps members in Teach For America—a popular alternative certification program—were at least as effective as teachers from traditional teacher prep programs in both PreK-5 reading and math, and those working with pre-K through second-grade were slightly more effective than their traditionally trained peers.
Alternative certification programs also provide a path into teaching for people who otherwise might not have been able to pursue a career in education. And it’s clear that we need to encourage more people to go into this field: In January 2015, the Minnesota Department of Education released a report, ‘Teacher Supply and Demand’, finding that Minnesota faces significant—and in many subjects and regions, growing—teacher shortages. Alternative preparation programs can attract candidates who might not have normally applied through the traditional route, helping to fill in these gaps.
Not only can alternative programs bring motivated teachers into the field, but they can also help increase the diversity of our teaching corps. Let’s go back to the example of Teach For America. The ratio of TFA teachers identifying as people of color is more than double that of teachers nationwide. In 2014, 50 percent of TFA corps members identified as people of color, compared to less than 20 percent of teachers nationwide. Research shows that increasing diversity in the classroom is important for our kids—and alternative teacher preparation programs are one way to work towards this goal.
Given our state’s current challenges, the needs of our students and the successes of alternative certification programs, it’s crucial that Minnesota start investing in nontraditional, high-quality pathways into the classroom. Legislation has been introduced to create a competitive grant for current and new alternative certification programs for $1 million a year, and I believe Minnesota should absolutely invest this money—if not more—in our future educators and leaders.
Alternative certification is definitely not the silver bullet to all of the challenges in Minnesota public education, but it is a piece of the solution. To help alleviate stark inequalities, let’s recruit the best and brightest by giving them multiple routes into our classrooms. Alternatively certified teachers may have a sharp learning curve, although all new teachers do. They also have the same dedication and commitment to our kids, and high levels of expectations for all students right from the start.
It’s time to stop making the certification process a political playground. It’s time to invest in our future leaders, no matter what path they take to achieving excellence in the classroom. It’s time to put our kids first.
Meghna is graduating this spring with a bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of Minnesota, and recently completed an internship with MinnCAN. Next fall, she will teach elementary education in the Twin Cities with Teach For America.
The MinnCAN blog allows Minnesota teachers, administrators, parents and advocates to share their thoughts on key education issues. Blogging fellows' and guest bloggers' views and opinions are solely their own.