Teachers union offers compromise on school improvement plan

Reviewing for test
Waubun teacher Ann Wothe helps a student review for a test in this file photo from May 3, 2010.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Minnesota's statewide teachers union has unveiled a legislative proposal aimed at narrowing the racial achievement gap in public schools, and strengthening the teaching profession.

Education Minnesota officials say they're willing to support an alternative licensing process for teachers, under certain conditions. The union vigorously opposed a similar move last year.

Educators and lawmakers have long been befuddled by the test score disparities found among students of various racial groups.

At a news conference Tuesday, Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said he wants to tackle the so-called achievement gap by lowering class sizes. He also wants to increase parental involvement and medical support services in schools.

"As a start, these efforts should be focused on the schools where students struggle academically the most," said Dooher. "Last year, the federal government identified 32 in Minnesota. We propose focusing our beginning efforts on a similar number of schools to be identified by the Minnesota Department of Education."

Dooher said Education Minnesota will also support a responsible approach to creating alternative training and licensing pathways into the teaching profession.

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Last year, the union helped defeat a similar measure, because Dooher said it would have badly weakened current teaching standards. But he now says such a program could have some value under the right circumstances.

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher
Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher speaks at a press conference in St. Paul on Oct. 29, 2009 about the upcoming referenda on ballots across the state on Nov. 3. Dooher says inadequate state funding has made these local funding efforts more cruicial for districts.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

"Where there are shortages of teachers, either geographically or in subject areas, or where mid-career professionals want to teach in their area of expertise, there should be accelerated pathways into the professions," he said.

But Dooher said those candidates would need to demonstrate that they can actually teach, and he said they should be supervised in the classroom for at least 90 days.

Education Minnesota is also proposing a new system to annually review the job performance of teachers throughout the state.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate are moving quickly on an alternative licensure bill. An initial hearing is scheduled Thursday.

Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, who chairs the House Education Reform Committee, said she thinks Education Minnesota shares many of her goals when it comes to alternative licensure. But Erickson said she doesn't like the 90 days of supervision.

"It sounds like the teacher Gestapo to me. I think that if a candidate comes out of one of these programs, he or she is going to be well-prepared to be in the classroom," said Erickson. "If a district has decided that candidate should be in the classroom, I'm not sure why we would need that Gestapo at work, and I would like to visit with them about that."

Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnestrista, chair of the Senate education committee, said the first hearing on an alternative licensure bill is coming next week. Olson said the Senate wants to get the measure on Gov. Dayton's desk early in the session.

"He seems to have sent indications that he is supportive of things that are going to improve student achievement, and is going to be supporting some reforms," she said. "And I'm looking forward to meeting further with him and his staff on some of these reform issues."

With the state facing a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit, Olson said there won't be money available for many changes in K-12 education.

Gov. Dayton told reporters last week that he'll do everything he can to fulfill his campaign pledge to increase K-12 funding every year he's in office.