May 16, 2017

So, What Would the Proposed Teacher Licensure Overhaul Actually Do?

By Daniel Sellers

What a recent Pioneer Press article said represents, “one of the biggest reforms to state education policy in recent history,” will head to the Governor’s desk any day. By proposing an overhaul to Minnesota’s teacher licensure system, HF140 also represents something atypical in the current hyper-partisan environment: compromise. Building off of input from the Office of the Legislative Auditor, the Department of Education, and the Board of Teaching, and earning bipartisan support as it passed through the House and Senate, HF140 would significantly improve how the state licenses educators. We hope the the Governor will sign the bill, thus creating fair, consistent pathways for educators into the Minnesota classrooms that need them.

So, what exactly would HF140 do, and why do we need it? Below are some frequently asked questions about the proposed licensure overhaul.

Question: Why is this legislation so important?

Answer: In March 2016, a groundbreaking report from the highly respected, nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor confirmed what school leaders and teachers had long known: Minnesota’s teacher licensure system is “broken.” In the face of growing teacher shortages and stagnant educator diversity, Minnesota can no longer afford to lose out on qualified, passionate educators due to this broken system. HF140 would address many of the concerns detailed in the OLA report, help curb teacher shortages, and increase teacher diversity—and not a moment too soon.

Does HF140 really address the OLA’s recommendations?

Yes. The OLA report gave six key recommendations, every one of which is encompassed in the legislation:

  • The Legislature should consolidate all teacher licensure activities into one state entity.
  • The Legislature should clarify which agency is responsible for teacher licensure activities.
  • The Legislature should clarify Minnesota statutes regarding teacher licensure requirements.
  • The Legislature should restructure the state’s teacher licensure system to ensure consistency and transparency; the OLA recommends establishing a tiered licensure system.
  • In its licensure denial letters, MDE should specifically state the deficiencies it identified in an applicant’s preparation or qualifications.
  • The state entity responsible for teacher licensure should ensure that its licensure appeal process is consistent with the law.

Does Tier 1 “lower the bar” for teachers?

Just the opposite: Tier 1 actually raises and clarifies the bar for licensure. Currently, Minnesota allows several hundred untrained “community experts” to teach in our schools each year. Without any formal requirements for this designation, the Board of Teaching has full discretion to approve or deny a school district’s application to hire a community expert, often resulting in subjective and unpredictable decisions. By creating a formal Tier 1 license, HF140 establishes, for the first time, a common “floor” that every individual in Minnesota would have to meet in order to teach. It also ensures fidelity by creating clear guidelines for schools; for example, before hiring a teacher with a Tier 1 license, a district or charter school would have to first post the teaching position and try finding a suitable Tier 2, 3, or 4 educator.

By requiring schools to give preference to higher-tiered educators, when possible, and giving lower-tiered educators a clear path—and incentive—to move up the tiers, HF140 strikes the right balance between honoring high standards and granting much-needed flexibility during teacher shortages. And by getting rid of “community experts” and creating clear requirements for Tier 1 licenses, the bill actually elevates the bar to entry into the teaching profession.

Does the bill recognize licensure candidates’ professional teaching experience, especially from other states?

Yes. The bill treats out-of-state teacher candidates as the professionals that we know they are. To qualify for a Tier 3 license, teachers would have to demonstrate that their license in another state is in good standing and pass Minnesota’s content and pedagogy teacher-licensure exams. Plus—finally—they would get credit for their successful classroom experience in other states, and no longer be forced into wasting time and money on redundant coursework or student teaching.

Why does HF140 establish an entirely new board to oversee teacher licensure?

The OLA report confirmed something else educators and advocates have known for years: The current governance structure, which diffuses licensure responsibilities across the Board of Teaching and Department of Education, is not working. It’s clear that licensure activities need to be housed entirely in one state entity, with clear authority and a direct line of accountability to the Governor. By creating the new Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB), HF140 does just that.

What’s more, the new PELSB will include diverse education stakeholders. Importantly, the six seats reserved for teachers represent a majority on the proposed 11-member board. Other spots are reserved for a superintendent, a principal, a district human resources director, an intermediate or special education cooperative administrator, and a member of the public. HF140 would also ensure that the Board includes perspectives from Greater Minnesota, higher education, and teacher preparation.

I’ve heard people raise concerns about the bill as it made its way through the Legislature. Have these concerns been addressed?

Yes. The authors of the bill, Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) and Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake), made many concessions and changes to the bill language based on input and concerns raised by their DFL colleagues, Education Commissioner Cassellius, and other stakeholders. The final version of HF140 is a great example of an open, flexible, thorough, and bipartisan process, resulting in solutions that will best serve the needs of Minnesota’s schools, teachers, and students.

The bill sounds great. How can I help ensure it becomes law?

We thought you’d never ask! The best thing you can do is take one minute to urge Gov. Dayton to sign HF140.

HF140 is the result of the hard work of legislators and other state leaders, as well as the countless brave educators who have shared their concerns with the state’s broken licensure system for years. Most importantly, this bill will give a clear path to licensure for the educators our students so greatly need. For all of these reasons, we hope that you’ll join us in asking Gov. Dayton to sign HF140.

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