February 25, 2021

Teachers Push Back on Licensure Changes

By Matt Shaver

Minnesota students should never miss out on a great teacher because of arbitrary licensure barriers. Despite signs that tiered licensure is working, legislators are once again considering bills that would eliminate pathways to licensure for experienced, effective, and diverse educators. In hearings in the House and Senate, teachers shared their stories through letters and testimony to tell legislators how proposed changes to licensure could push them out of the profession.

Language in the Governor’s education policy bill and HF 1376 would eliminate pathways to licensure for experienced, effective, and diverse educators. This would exacerbate the state’s teacher shortages and remove a critical pathway towards racially diversifying the teacher workforce. At least 21% of teachers who hold a Tier 2 license identify as teachers of color, as compared to just 5.6% for the overall workforce. Eliminating this pathway would push dedicated teachers out of the profession. 

Here, we capture the testimony that teachers provided about the negative impact of this change and why it’s important that we keep the licensure system intact. 
Act Now! Your voice matters.

What Educators Are Saying

I have three post-secondary degrees. I am a person of color and committed to public education. The proposal under consideration would require me to (re)enroll in a traditional teacher preparation program in order to keep teaching.

“My students, the majority of whom have been students of color, English language learners, and eligible for free and reduced lunch, have performed well. Both they and their families have responded positively to me, and my performance observations have been consistently excellent.

The current tiered system finally provides me with a path towards licensure in the field in which I actually teach. It gives me a chance at professional security within a public school setting. I have three post-secondary degrees in different social studies disciplines. I am a person of color, and I am committed to public education. The proposal under consideration today would require me to (re)enroll in a traditional teacher preparation program in order to keep teaching.

If we are truly committed to closing the achievement gap, diversifying the pool of classroom teachers is an important part of the solution. One way to think about this diversity is to create a space for a diversity of experiences and to create diverse paths for obtaining a license.” 

Dr. N’Jai-An Patters, Tier 2 teacher of color with eight years of experience in public school classrooms. Read her full testimony here.

My diverse background and experience have a deep impact on the students I teach.

“Coming from an out-of-state university, the Tier 2 licensure has provided me with the ability to transition into this new environment with growing opportunity. As a teacher of color, I feel that my diverse background and experience have a deep impact on the students I teach, and allow them to connect in ways others could not, solely based on their ability to feel as though they are heard and appreciated. My fear is that with this new proposal, many teachers relying on this Tier 2 to tier 3 transition would turn away from the opportunity to teach and connect with their students – especially those that need the connection the most – due entirely to the lack of support needed to get there.” 

Angelica Daley, a Tier 2 teacher of color who is in her second year of teaching. Read her full testimony here.

Those talking down to Tier 2 teachers don’t see the relationships I’ve built with students. They don’t see the 41 hours of graduate teacher education courses I completed or that I co-founded an Equity Leadership Team at my school to address inequities. 

“Those talking down about Tier 2 teachers don’t see the relationships I’ve built with students classified as hard to reach. They don’t see the 41 hours of graduate teacher education courses I completed or that I co-founded an Equity Leadership Team at my school to address inequities. They don’t see the time I spend being a technology liaison for my building to help students and staff with troubleshooting or that I’m a faculty union representative, or the hundreds of hours of professional development I’ve taken through the school and on my own time. They don’t know that all those professional development hours don’t count for my Tier 2 license renewal and that I do them because I am dedicated. Because I am qualified.”  

Anthony Holloway, a Tier 2 Secondary Special Education Teacher in Rochester. Watch his testimony here

The teachers at our district who will be most impacted by this rule change are experienced, highly educated, teachers of color. They often have a master’s degree or PhDs in their content area, and years of teaching experience, with strong results, in their content area.

“The teachers at our district who will be most impacted by this rule change are experienced, highly educated, teachers of color. They often have a master’s degree or PhDs in their content area, and years of teaching experience, with strong results, in their content area. They are teachers of color who forge strong relationships with our students. They are highly successful in their work. Adding additional barriers for these teachers to stay in this profession for the long-term risks losing them forever, and runs counter to Minnesota’s demonstrated need to increase the diversity of its teachers.

This rule change not only impacts the cohort of teachers mentioned above, but does significant damage to our district’s long term pipeline of teachers of color. Our district’s white teachers are, without question, more traditionally licensed through teacher prep programs. This is in part because of systemic inequities in our society that ultimately result in more white graduates of teacher prep programs. The Tier 1 to Tier 2 to Tier 3 licensure pathway provides a needed alternative for qualified, successful teachers to earn long term teacher licensure in this state.” 

Michael Knutson, the Human Resources Director at Hiawatha Academies. Read his full testimony here. 

She is my teammate and a strong teacher. Removing this pathway to get her Tier 3 license would negatively impact not only our team, but at the heart, her students.

“I am in my 12th year of teaching and am considered a Tier 4 license holder according to the requirements of MDE licensure … I have had the wonderful opportunity to be partnered with a teacher that would be affected by this bill. She is my teammate, and she is a strong teacher. Removing this pathway for her to get her Tier 3 license would negatively impact not only our team dynamic, but at the heart, her students. She takes her work seriously and I have not met a finer young woman who puts in the work to be an exceptional teacher. I know she is not the exception to this rule, but the norm.” 

Natalie Jones, a Tier 4 teacher who has been teaching for 12 years. Read her full testimony here 

Closing this pathway would remove a way for many of our state’s teachers of color to get permanent licensure and would require many quality teachers in our state to navigate additional financial, time, and system barriers in order to secure a license.

“There are high-quality Tier 2 teachers who are in their third year and, if this pathway is removed, they would not be allowed to receive the Tier 3 license they have been working toward and that would allow them to stay in the classroom.

Closing this pathway would remove a way for many of our state’s teachers of color to get permanent licensure and would require many quality teachers in our state to navigate additional financial, time, and system barriers in order to secure a license. This pathway allows for quality educators who are meeting the standards of their local leaders and boards to continue teaching on a Tier 3 license without needing to overcome additional barriers that may be present in the teacher preparation program space.” 

Brendan O’Hara, Equity Coordinator at Nova Classical Academy. Read his full testimony here

Education Stakeholders Stand Together Against Proposed Changes

Over the past two weeks, eight teachers have weighed in at the Capitol—and we expect even more stories as the legislature continues with hearings on HF 1376, a sweeping bill that would erode pathways to the classroom established by tiered licensure.

Alongside these teachers, many school administrators have weighed in as well, representing schools of all types and in all corners of the state: Hiawatha Academies; the Minnesota Association of School Personnel Administrators, with signatories from Edina to Moorhead to Wilmar; the Minnesota Association for Career & Technical Administrators and Minnesota Association of Career and Technical Education; the Minnesota School Boards Association and Association of Metropolitan School Districts; Nova Classical Academy; and Prodeo Academy.

This issue will impact not just teachers and schools, but the students they serve. Tiered licensure is working. In a time of teacher shortages—including for teachers of color—now is not the time to reverse course and push dedicated teachers out of the profession.