March 9, 2021

Let’s Break it Down: Five Reasons Why We’re Saying “NO” to This Year’s Licensure Bill

By Josh Crosson

If you had told me a decade ago that I would be working this hard to make teacher licensure in Minnesota fair, I probably would have told you to kick rocks. But fighting for a diverse teacher workforce that ensures our students, especially our students from historically underserved communities, have great teachers from different backgrounds means that we must address one of the biggest barriers to teaching—licensure. In other words, we can’t have education equity without a fair teacher licensure system.

Teacher licensure policy can seem like a daunting and wonky issue, but I promise you that it’s super easy to advocate around. Here’s a quick breakdown of Minnesota’s Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB)’s proposal that would push out Minnesota teachers and what exactly that means.

Here are the five changes that would make it harder for educators to teach.

1. The bill would literally take teachers’ licenses away.

Before we get too far into it, here’s a quick reminder that all Minnesota teachers have one of four Tiers of licensure: Tiers 1, 2, 3, and 4. Each tier also corresponds with how many years the license is good for except for Tier 4, which is a 5-year license. There are other rules on how many times you can renew your license and what qualifications you need for each license.

Tier 2 licensure is where folks enter when they have experience, like a number of years as a teacher in another state, are in a teacher training residency program, or have expertise like a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in the subject.

There are currently 12 different paths you can take to a Tier 2 license, and this bill gets rid of 10 of them. (You can see what’s removed here.)

For example: Say you are a current teacher who passed all of your Minnesota tests and have over two years of teaching experience in another state. Currently, you’d be given a Tier 2 license— because you’ve been able to demonstrate content and pedagogy through assessments and show that you have teaching experience in the field.

Or, you have completed teacher preparation coursework and have over two years of teaching experience but haven’t completed three months of unpaid student teaching. In both of these examples, the bill would block any new teachers from entering Tier 2 licensure AND would take away the licenses from current teachers who have used these pathways. PELSB’s bill would force teacher licensure to no longer consider experience or evidence of content and pedagogy as criteria for Tier 2 licensure.

Now, under this bill, a teacher could stay in the classroom if they agree to have their licensure demoted to Tier 1, which comes with less security and a shorter term, but PELSB would also need to approve that licensure annually, and Tier 1 licensure comes with greater scrutiny, which is why Tier 2 teachers have said that this bill would likely force them to simply quit.

Here’s the kicker, over 2,000 Minnesota teachers are currently in the classroom with a Tier 2 license, and about 20% of them are teachers of color. Are we really that eager to take their licenses away?

2. The bill stops teachers from getting promoted.

A Tier 3 license is your basic teacher license that’s good for three years and can be renewed forever. To become a Tier 3 teacher, a teacher has to pass content and pedagogy tests and must either complete a preparation program with 3 months of unpaid student teaching or have three years of experience as a Tier 2 teacher with a good evaluation from their principal. You can also complete a portfolio, which is a rarely used path that few teachers have used for their initial licensure.

This bill would make it impossible for an experienced and good Tier 2 teacher to become a Tier 3 teacher without first completing teacher preparation with student teaching, requiring additional hoops even for teachers who have been in the classroom for years. This will push out high-quality teachers who bring a host of experiences and skills, along with evidence of classroom success, and oftentimes other degrees and credentials—but who don’t have time, money, or capacity to complete additional requirements and new degrees.

Without this pathway, Tier 2 teachers would be stuck in Tier 2, only being able to renew twice unless PELSB gives them a special permission to be able to stay in the classroom, giving these teachers little in terms of job security.

3. The bill eliminates efforts to diversify the workforce and fill teacher shortages.

Students need teachers of color and teachers to curb shortages. Tier 1 teachers can renew their licenses indefinitely as long as they’re teachers of color or filling shortage areas. The bill would eliminate this provision and limit renewals, regardless of what students need. Our current laws were written equitably to allow these educators the ability to stay in the classroom because our state, and more importantly, our students, need them most.

4. The bill would create hiring uncertainty.

A month seems like enough time for PELSB to approve or deny a license, but this bill’s authors say that a deadline is too hard. Before the tiered licensure law, schools would either have to withdraw a job offer or hire an unlicensed teacher simply because the Board of Teaching hadn’t determined one way or the other whether a license was approved. I simply can’t understand how this would make our current system more efficient for anyone.

5. This bill would lower the bar for Tier 4 teachers.

A Tier 4 license, which is the highest license and marks a Master Teacher who is ready to be a mentor for other teachers, should demonstrate mastery of the profession. Currently, teachers can only get a Tier 4 license after three years of Tier 3 teaching experience and a good teacher evaluation. This bill removes the “good evaluation” part of the equation.

At the end of the day, PELSB’s licensure bill would make it more difficult for teachers to teach, for schools to diversify their teacher workforce, and to consider experience and quality in our licensure system. It would take licenses away from many of Minnesota’s teachers and close the pathway to licensure for countless more—disproportionately pushing teachers of color out of the profession for good. At a time when Minnesota faces severe teacher shortages and is working to recruit and retain educators of color, taking away licenses and creating barriers to the profession is simply a wrongheaded move.