Legislature should give new approach to teaching a chance

The following column originally appeared during March and April, 2019, in several newspapers that are part of the APG of East Central Minnesota group.


Legislature should give new approach to teaching a chance

One of this year’s most passionate education debates at the Minnesota Legislature involves a critical question: Who may teach Minnesota’s students?

One side includes more than 30 community educator and community groups, representing rural, suburban and urban districts and charter public schools. They’re urging that new approaches, developed collaboratively over several years, be allowed to operate for a few years and be carefully evaluated before being changed.

On the other hand, Minnesota’s colleges of education and the state teachers union, Education Minnesota, insist that revisions are needed now.

I agree with Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, which represents more than 40 suburban and urban districts. Croonquist told me on March 13 his organization agrees with many others: “The new system has only been in effect for half a year. We have no data to support changes.”

Anoka-Hennepin teacher Drew Moldenhauer, who spent 11 years as a police officer in Ramsey and has earned a master’s degree, might lose his job under proposed revisions in the law because he does not have a teaching degree. He also teaches classes at Hennepin Technical College. If proposed changes are made, he believes, “It will be very difficult to attract good, professional police officers to teach due to career instability.” That’s because proposed revisions allow a state agency to decide whether he can keep teaching, even if the district wants to keep him.

Nicole Tuescher, Anoka-Hennepin district executive director of human resources, testified recently in a Minnesota House committee, “We need time to collect information on how the currently adopted structure serves our students.” She pointed out that “positions in our district’s robust career and tech education program … might go unfilled” if changes are made.

Tuescher also explained the new approaches “look promising toward statewide efforts to ensure a diverse teaching corps.”

Josh Crosson, senior policy director with Minneapolis-based EdAllies, agrees with Tuescher. He told legislators on March 13 that almost 900 “teachers of color” are in the categories that opponents want to restrict. While teachers of color and American Indian teachers represent about 5 percent of Minnesota’s public school teachers, they represent about 10 percent of the teachers in categories that opponents want to restrict.

However, Patricia Cespedes-Schueller, a teacher in the Minnetonka School District, testified on March 13, “To recruit unprepared teachers is hardly progress.” She described parts of the new system as “disrespectful and harmful.”

Advocates of the new system insist there are many ways to be well-prepared. Some people asked whether patients would want a doctor (or an educator) who had not gone through a traditional training program.

Dan Sellers, executive director of EdAllies, believes that the better question is “How effective are the doctors (or educators) trained in those programs?” Pointing out that Minnesota has one of the country’s largest achievement gaps, Sellers told me “the new system can help schools close those gaps.”

Brian Goranson, an award-winning actor who’s now principal at St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts, a chartered public school, told legislators on March 4 that the school has both traditionally trained academic teachers and more than 50 part-time, working professional artists who demonstrated their teaching ability. He testified, “(Using) working professionals is both logical and integral to the career success of our students.”

Each side offers supportive research.

Two Education Minnesota reports are at https://bit.ly/2HkqKJw and https://bit.ly/2JbUjPe. The first report, “Smart Solutions to Minnesota’s Teacher Shortage: Developing and Sustaining a Diverse and Valued Educator Workforce,” describes alternative routes into teaching: “Some such programs have proven highly effective, and others have not.” I think that’s accurate.

EdAllies cites a summary of more than 30 studies (available at https://bit.ly/2Fb09wv), which concludes:

“In too many areas, though, the evidence is just too thin to have implications for policy. … Given the enormous investment that is made by would-be teachers, education schools, school districts and states in preparing and certifying teachers, and given the possibility that these requirements may reduce student achievement, the lack of convincing evidence in most of these areas is disturbing.”

Two descriptions of the new system, one by EdAllies and one by Education Minnesota, can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2JeBhry and https://bit.ly/2W2M8qh.

Changes were made after Minnesota’s highly respected legislative auditor concluded in 2016 that “Minnesota’s teacher-licensure system is broken and needs significant changes.” (That report is at https://bit.ly/2Hx33NI.)

On March 4, Denise Dittrich, associate director of government relations for the Minnesota School Boards Association, speaking for MSBA as well as Minnesota’s school administrators and rural, urban and suburban districts, testified that these groups agreed with the auditor: “The old system needed reform.”

Dittrich urged legislators: “Allow the new tiered licensure system some time before deconstructing it. … The new system provides the much-needed flexibility and trust school leaders need, particularly in shortage areas. … (It) should be allowed to work before adjusting.”

That seems like wise advice.

Joe Nathan can be reached at Joe@centerforschoolchange.org.