February 28, 2019

Hey Minnesota: Let’s Not Push Teachers of Color Out of the Classroom

By Daniel Sellers

This week, the Legislature held a hearing on HF 824, the Increase Teachers of Color Act, which seeks to double the number of American Indian teachers and teachers of color. Given the benefits of teacher diversity—and the fact that Minnesota’s teaching force is still 95 percent white—HF 824 is an important bill.

But, at the same time the Legislature is proposing a step forward on teacher diversity in terms of funding, they are also hearing a bill that would take two huge steps back by re-erecting systemic barriers to licensure—a move that will directly and disproportionately impact teachers of color and indigenous teachers. The newly introduced bill, HF 1329, would eliminate pathways to the classroom that we know are driving teacher diversity and recognizing the experience and effectiveness of educators. Even more egregious, it could push out hundreds of teachers of color and indigenous teachers who are already having a positive impact in the classroom by putting artificial limits on how long they can teach.

Act now to oppose HF 1329

If you find it befuddling that in a year where teacher diversity is a top priority, leaders are fighting for a bill which would deliver a long-lasting blow to teachers of color, you’re not alone. We’re alarmed and outraged, and we think you should be, too.

HF 1329 could push as many as one in four teachers of color out of the classroom.

THE BACK STORY

In 2018, after years of hard work and compromise, Minnesota launched a new, straightforward tiered teacher licensure system. The state’s previous system was undeniably broken, leading to numerous lawsuits and even an audit. Through bureaucratic, confusing, and arbitrary rules, it deterred or pushed out experienced, effective educators: teachers trained in other states, teachers trained in alternative preparation programs, and teachers with unique skills and professional experiences, in everything from wood-working to musical performance.

Policymakers replaced the broken system with tiered licensure specifically to welcome talented, experienced, and effective teachers into Minnesota classrooms, and to make sure that students never again lose a great teacher due to arbitrary barriers.

The new system includes four tiers, which allow educators to move up as they gain professional experience, credentialing, and positive evaluations. It also offers clear pathways for teachers licensed in other states. Rather than mandating that every educator complete their training at a Minnesota college or university, the tiered structure takes into account the many factors that can make an effective educator: a candidate’s teaching experience, content knowledge, training and professional development, and, most importantly, impact on students.

HOW HF 1329 WOULD DEVASTATE TEACHER DIVERSITY

HF 1329 would take us in the exact wrong direction. It would essentially make completion of a Minnesota teacher preparation program the only valid route to permanent licensure. It would explicitly delete language from statute creating pathways for teachers with master’s degrees, classroom experience, and positive teacher evaluations to enter and advance in the tiers. It would strip school leaders of the flexibility to hire and retain educators who they believe are qualified and effective, regardless of whether they completed a teacher preparation program in Minnesota.

And that is why this would have such a devastating impact—and one that will fall disproportionately on Minnesota’s teachers of color.

HF 1329 could push as many as one in four teachers of color out of the classroom. The fact is, today 23 percent of teachers of color in Minnesota hold a Tier 1 or 2 license, or a special permission (The same is true for 47 percent of career and technical education teachers.) These are the teachers who would be pushed out of teaching unless they complete a Minnesota teacher preparation program—despite having other credentials, years of successful classroom leadership, and positive evaluations.

To name just a few concerns, HF 1329 would:

  • remove numerous non-traditional pathways to a Tier 2 license;
  • arbitrarily cap the number of times that teachers with Tiers 1 and 2 licenses can renew their licenses;
  • eliminate current statutory language intended to encourage school districts to recruit teacher candidates from out-of-state (remember: Minnesota has one of the nation’s least diverse teaching corps);
  • eliminate existing paths to permanent licensure for experienced, effective teachers in Tiers 1 and 2; and
  • automatically bucket all Tier 1 and 2 teachers with ineffective teachers by restricting who they can teach, regardless of their actual impact in the classroom.

If we demand that there should only be one path to permanent Minnesota licensure (when that path has been largely reserved for white educators) and thereby push out current, experienced teachers of color (despite how well they’re doing in the classroom), Minnesota’s teaching force will become more white, and not necessarily any higher quality. We simply have to create more, not fewer, pathways into teaching. And we have to keep great teachers in the classroom, no matter how they got there.

Please call on state leaders to oppose HF 1329 and SF 1557 today.