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Minnesota Must Keep High Teacher Standards

December 08, 2009 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

The Minnesota Board of Teaching is considering a rule change that, if improperly applied, could weaken the quality of teachers in the state.

At its Nov. 13 meeting, the board decided to look at a change that will allow the board's executive director to approved some alternative teacher licenses without board approval. This process could open the door to putting unqualified teachers in the classroom.

Minnesota's standards for teacher licensure are critical to ensuring that all teachers are capable of providing the kind of education Minnesotans expect from their schools. The Board of Teaching is trusted with administering and updating those licensure requirements.

Unfortunately, the state has a shortage of teachers in key areas including math, science and technology. Some schools, especially those in rural Minnesota, have a difficult time recruiting and retaining teachers in these subjects. Couple this with the fact that half of Minnesota's teachers are nearing retirement age and there is great pressure on the Board of Teaching to ease up on college teaching graduation and teacher licensure requirements.

The goal, according to the Minnesota Department of Education, is to create more innovative ways to get teachers in the classroom. In addition, the Minneapolis-based Bush Foundation recently announced a $40 million, 10 year commitment to finding 25,000 new teachers and wants teacher colleges in Minnesota and the Dakotas to explore new ways to recruit, educate, place and retain teachers.

Although the goals are noble, some are concerned about where this rule change may lead. Bruce Munson, a University of Minnesota-Duluth professor and president of the Minnesota Association for Colleges of Teacher Education, said the state's teacher education colleges require their students to be well versed in the mechanics of teaching as well as undergoing extensive on-site training before graduation. They then must pass the Board of Teaching's licensure requirements which include a subject test and proof of knowledge about their subject area.

While Munson certainly doesn't want schools to be unable to offer classes because they can't find licensed teachers, he also doesn't want to see a glut of unprepared teachers being put in front of students.

"The difficulty we see is with how the alternative licensure programs might be handled," he said. "They don't seem to have the same type of rigor or scrutiny that a teacher education program offers before getting a teacher in the classroom."

Not that MACTE is against innovation in teacher preparation, Munson said. For Minnesota to continue to be a leader in education, more and better teachers need to find their way into classrooms. Groups such as the Bush Foundation are involved in finding a greater variety of potential teachers. This means there should be no "one size fits all" theory to teacher preparation, he said.

"But pedagogy, standards and supervised training have to be provided in the teacher preparation process," he said.

Munson's call for a more deliberative process is a good one. Some potential teachers may balk at the length of a full teacher preparation program and call for an expedited training program. With the current and future teacher crisis, such calls are understandable.

But understand this: The only way Minnesota is going to flourish in the 21st century is with an educated citizenry and workforce. The only way to get that workforce is to have a large quantity of highly trained, highly motivated teachers. We should support groups like MACTE and the Bush Foundation in finding and training such teachers. Any movement that would shortcut that goal must be avoided.

Does the recent rule change by the Board of Teaching create such a shortcut? While there is no "one size fits all" standard to teacher preparation, there should be a "one size fits all" standard to teacher licensure. Minnesota's students deserve no less.

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