State still waiting for teacher candidates two years into alternative system

Dr. Greg Hanson
Dr. Greg Hanson recently sold his dental practice in Bloomington after neck and back problems forced him to consider a change in career. Hanson, 59, says he could retire but would rather teach science to middle school students. A program fast-tracking teacher licenses in Minnesota was put in place two years ago with cases like Hanson's in mind, but so far the program has yet to get off the ground.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

More than two years after Minnesota lawmakers created easier ways for people to become teachers, the state is still waiting to license a single teacher under the effort.

The problem: no organizations have applied for approval to start training under the so-called alternative teacher licensure effort.

That has frustrated some who see the program as a way to provide a path to the classroom for teachers who have licenses from other states, or professionals who want to switch careers.

Among those who would like to make the transition is Dr. Greg Hanson, who has been a dentist in Bloomington, Minn., since 1979.

These days, along with checking patients' teeth, he also is saying goodbye as he prepares to leave dentistry.

Hanson, 59, has had some neck and back problems recently that forced him to sell his practice. He could retire, but has decided to take a rain check on the fishing and golfing scene.

With his career experience, Hanson could teach biology or chemistry to middle school students. But he doesn't want to spend the next year or two in school to earn his teaching license.

Dr. Greg Hanson
Dr. Greg Hanson works on a patient March 12, 2013. in Bloomington. Hanson says his years 34 years as a dentist should be experience enough to qualify him to teach science to middle school students.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

"The biologic clock is ticking," he said. "I would prefer if I could to find a teaching position without going back to get a master's degree."

Situations like Hanson's are what prompted lawmakers to pass the Alternative Teacher Certification law in 2011.

The bipartisan move required the state's Board of Teaching to come up with a set of guidelines for colleges or non-profit organizations interested in providing students an alternative way into teaching that doesn't involve years of college.

It places teachers into the classroom with a temporary teaching license after 200 hours of training and preparation. Once the candidates finish the program and pass the required skills tests for teachers, they are granted a full teaching license.

After the law was passed, it took the Minnesota Board of Teaching one year to develop the training requirements, said Karen Balmer, its executive director. The board completed the standards in January 2012.

"However we've not yet received an application from a potential program provider that is ready to submit that application and go through that approval process to potentially become a provider," Balmer said.

The Board of Teaching has faced criticism that it's not moving fast enough on alternative teacher licensure.

Brian Sweeney, director of external affairs for Charter School Partners, a Minnesota-based group that helps start charter schools, said charter schools in the Twin Cities are desperately waiting for a training program to be put in place, because they would like to hire teachers licensed in other states.

"If the intent of a piece of legislation is not being implemented, that's a problem," Sweeney said.

Balmer said she understands why some are frustrated at the delays. But she said the board's job is not to recruit groups to start training programs. Instead, it is charged with creating stringent guidelines for the organizations that want to provide alternative paths to teaching.

"We don't want teacher preparation programs to be fly-by-night programs... It's too important."

"We don't want teacher preparation programs to be fly-by-night programs," she said. "It's too important and we've got to get this right, both for the candidates they will enroll, and more importantly for the student they will serve at the end of the end of that program."

Despite the two-year wait, Balmer expects applications for alternative teacher licensure programs to start rolling in soon.

One of the first could be from Teach for America, the national program that places college students in classrooms after a five-week summer training course.

"I feel pretty confident in saying that in the coming two months we plan on submitting it to the Board of Teaching and going through the first phase, which is getting organizational approval," said Crystal Brakke, Teach for America's director in the Twin Cities.

After that, Teach for America-Twin Cities would need state approval for the training it intends to provide.

Brakke hopes the organization can start training students to earn their teachers licenses by the summer of 2014. Until then, the group will continue to rely on Hamline University in St. Paul to train its teachers so they can obtain temporary licenses under a special waiver with the State Department of Education.

Because no alternative teacher licensure program is yet in place, Hanson, the Bloomington dentist, said he will seek out a job at a private school that doesn't require a Minnesota teaching license.

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