FAQ: Minn.'s alternative teaching licensure legislation

One area where DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican leaders have found common ground this session is on the issue of creating alternative ways for people to become teachers.

The governor announced the deal this week the House and Senate could vote as early as Thursday to send the compromise to Dayton's desk.

What will this legislation do?

The law creates a process by which the state would approve alternative licensure programs. Anyone wishing to become an alternatively licensed teacher would have to enroll in one of those programs; those enrollees would be granted temporary teaching licenses while they're completing the program. Teaching candidates who complete the alternative licensure program and pass content and skills exams will earn a standard teaching license.

The Minnesota Board of Teaching — an agency that's independent of the state's Department of Education (but physically housed in the same building as the department) — gains the most governmental authority with the law.

It will be up to the board to initially approve programs for operation, to assess their effectiveness, and to potentially revoke approval if a program doesn't meet to-be-determined benchmarks.

The programs themselves must meet requirements, including offering at least 200 hours of instructional prep time in the classroom (the most common form of this is student teaching).

The law takes effect for the 2011-2012 school year.

Who is likely to become a teacher via alternative licensure?

The legislation targets three main groups of people:

• Mid-career professionals who want to become teachers but never earned a traditional teaching degree in college.

• Recent college graduates who didn't earn a traditional teaching degree but who want to teach (Teach for America members fall into this category).

• Current teachers who are licensed in another state who want to teach in Minnesota.

Anyone wishing to enroll in one of these alternative licensure programs would have to have a bachelor's degree and at least a 3.0 GPA. Candidates also must pass basic skills tests, as well as further exams within the subject area where the candidate wishes to teach.

How would the mid-career professional, for example, become a teacher with this new system in place?

Currently, the mid-career professional would likely have to return to school to earn an education degree to become a teacher.

The new law will allow professionals that meet the prerequisites to enroll in an alternative licensure program that would get them into the classroom sooner. Remember, enrollees are granted temporary teaching licenses once they're accepted to a program.

No such program currently exists in Minnesota specifically for mid-career professionals, but the expectation is the passage of this law will spark the creation of such programs. For instance, the St. Paul teachers' union has been working with the city's school district to develop its own program for mid-career professionals, called CareerTeacher.

Isn't Teach for America already doing this?

Teach for America currently has 90 members placed as teachers at 20 metro-area charter schools, 13 different schools in the Minneapolis school district, as well as Brooklyn Center High School.

The program, however, exists in a temporary state. It has had to get special waivers from the Board of Teaching in both years it has existed in Minnesota. Leaders at Teach for America say the new law will provide them with more stability.

Teach for America isn't the only nationwide teacher preparation program. Another one is the New Teacher Project, which was founded by former Washington, D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Aside from some previous work with the Minneapolis school district, the New Teacher Project doesn't exist in Minnesota. Supporters say the new law could entice such programs to locate in the state.

Under the law, higher education institutions and education-related non-profits would be allowed to create their own programs. Individual school districts would be able to participate in those programs, but the law does not include any requirement that districts hire any teacher produced by such a program.

The St. Paul district, as noted above, is already developing such a program.

The state teachers' union Education Minnesota opposed this measure. What's the status of their support?

Education Minnesota still opposes the bill, even with the new compromise between the governor and Republican legislative leaders.

The union had said any alternative licensure program should have a concrete link to a higher education institution. While Dayton says he'll sign the bill, he said he didn't like the fact that the law still won't have a concrete link to higher ed.

The group also says Minnesota's high standards to enter teaching would be lowered with this law.

What's the problem this is trying to solve?

The stated goals of the legislation are to improve student achievement, increase diversity among teachers and to help close the achievement gap. Dayton, in his letter to legislative leaders this week, also said his hope is the bill would help school districts find teachers for subject areas where there are shortages. In Minnesota, shortages are most often noted in math, science, special education and world languages.

Alternatively licensed teachers would still be a vast minority of Minnesota's entire teaching force of 52,000, but supporters of alternative certification note the increase in recent years of the nationwide numbers.

During the 2008-2009 school year, 59,000 teachers across the U.S. were certified through alternate routes, according to the National Center for Alternative Certification. In Texas, a majority of new teachers enter the profession each year through alternate routes.

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