November 17, 2020

New MN Teacher Preparation Regulations Are Almost Done

By Krista Kaput

For over a year, the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) has been working to overhaul their process for approving and regulating teacher preparation programs in Minnesota. In September, there was a formal hearing on their proposed framework, and this month, the judge tasked with affirming or raising concerns with the rules (officially known as the administrative law judge or “ALJ”) issued his report.

The ALJ had the power to send PELSB back to the drawing board on proposals that didn’t meet legal muster. While stakeholders raised a number of concerns, the ALJ flagged just one: The proposed requirements for teacher educators went beyond PELSB’s authority and will need to be redrafted to reflect flexibilities intended by the legislature. This was a huge issue for some emerging alternative teacher preparation programs, and the ALJ’s ruling will help give them the flexibility they need to run their programs with fidelity.

Read on for a recap of our lingering concerns and next steps.

New Rules Critical to Future of Alt Prep in MN

Up until 2017, all teacher prep programs in Minnesota—including alternative programs—were required to operate through an institution of higher education. Legislators removed this requirement, and now for the first time, PELSB’s regulations must finally provide a clear process for teacher prep programs operating outside of colleges and universities. While these programs have to teach the same standards, they may operate differently on many other measures, and getting it right will make or break innovation in the field. 

Teacher Educator Requirements Flagged as Deficient

One of the most debated issues during the rulemaking process was around what qualifications there should be for teacher educators: the individuals who train teacher candidates. Programs within colleges and universities must abide by regulations from the Higher Learning Commission because they grant college and graduate credits. 

Alternative teacher preparation programs, on the other hand, do not grant credits and are not subject to the same requirements. In fact, the alternative teacher preparation law specifies that these programs must be allowed to use nontraditional criteria to determine qualifications of program instructors, including previous work experience, teaching experience, educator evaluations, and industry-recognized certifications.

Despite the clear language in statute, just three days before the ALJ hearing, PELSB adopted a last-minute change—without public input—that would have required all teacher educators to complete teacher preparation. This change would have blocked many high-quality, experienced teachers from serving as an instructor in teacher prep, including 400 teachers who obtained their license through the portfolio route and teachers working on Tier 1 and 2 licenses. 

Fortunately, the ALJ recognized that this proposed rule was overreach, which means that PELSB must go back to the drawing board to come up with rules that align with the alternative teacher preparation statute. 

While the ALJ stuck down alternative prep teacher educator requirements, PELSB will be allowed to proceed with increased experience requirements. Despite concerns raised by higher education, PELSB will require faculty to have at least three years of teaching experience to be a teacher educator, instead of one. From EdAllies view, this change will be beneficial for aspiring educators who often express an eagerness for more links between theory and practice.

ALJ OKs Official Role for Interest Groups 

A crucial part of the teacher prep program approval process is a Program Review Panel (PRP): a group of reviewers who assess program criteria and quality and make recommendations about whether a program should be approved or denied. The panel is supposed to be made up of knowledgeable professionals who can apply their expertise to objectively assess whether an application meets specific criteria laid out in law and rule. 

PELSB proposed naming two special interest groups— Education Minnesota and the Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (MACTE)—to the program review panel. EdAllies, alternative teacher preparation programs, and a number of other organizations raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest and objectivity that this could create in the process. 

The ALJ ultimately disagreed with the objections, stating that these groups could “contribute to the functioning and deliberations of the PRP.” EdAllies will continue to track the approval process to ensure this doesn’t lead to bias in decision making.

Other Concerns Approved by ALJ 

Stakeholders raised a number of other objections that the ALJ ultimately decided could be adopted: 

  • Definition of “Professional License”: PELSB proposed creating a new umbrella definition of “professional license” for Tier 3 and Tier 4 teachers. Stakeholders raised concerns that this language would undermine the high-quality and effective teachers who are working on Tier 1 and Tier 2 licenses, which includes 21% of Minnesota’s teachers of color and Indigenous teachers
  • Excessive Initial Approval Timeline: PELSB proposed a timeline of at least 15 months for prospective teacher preparation programs to receive initial licensure. All of Minnesota’s alternative teacher preparation providers noted that this excessive timeline could be a barrier to attracting high-quality alternative teacher preparation programs. 
What’s Next? 

Once PELSB has made the necessary changes to the teacher educator requirements, they will submit them to the ALJ to approval. Once the ALJ has ruled that the rules are aligned to the alternative teacher preparation statute, then PELSB can submit the rules to Governor Walz for approval, before ultimately adopting them as a Board. 

Once the rules are adopted, EdAllies will be following the implementation to ensure that the regulations are being applied with fidelity and that there aren’t unintended consequences that need further clarification in statute.