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Teaching board fights court order on alternative license path

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Kirstin Rogers looks through the application.
Kirstin Rogers looks through Minnesota's portfolio licensure application for teachers on Wednesday at her home in Burnsville, Minn.
Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News

Kirstin Rogers taught history and English in Utah for 12 years. She has a master's degree and a handful of other certificates. Still, when she moved to Minnesota the state gave her only a temporary teacher's license. She learned she'd have to do a lot of work to get a permanent one.    

Rogers contacted the University of Minnesota to see what she'd have to do to gain a permanent teacher's license. The answer was daunting.     

"I would be required to student teach again," Rogers said. "And then all these additional courses."  

  The portfolio option would have let Rogers show her teaching experience and ability instead of taking more courses. More than 500 teachers went that route from 2004 until the Board of Teaching closed the option in 2012. Rogers wasn't one of them, but became part of a group of plaintiffs in a case to reopen portfolio licensing for other experienced teachers.    

A judge ruled in their favor last month and ordered the board to restart the option. The board did so, but appealed. That wasn't because board members disagree they broke the law by stopping portfolio licensing. Instead, they say the case is in the wrong court. The board argues plaintiffs should have appealed their cases to an administrative law judge.   

The state education department and the board blame each other for closing portfolio licensing, although they agree the issue comes down to staffing. The board says the department cut necessary staff. The department says the board asked for extra help processing portfolios, and it didn't have the staff to say yes.     

Rogers' lawyer Rhyddid Watkins said neither explanation makes sense. Resources shouldn't be a problem, he said.  

"The Board of Teaching is not only not taking a loss on licensure via portfolio, but they were actually turning a substantial profit," he said. 

Watkins said the board had several thousand dollars in licensure fees left over when it closed the process.    

  Board director Erin Doan won't talk specifically about the case, but she said the state needs to be careful about whom it allows in the classroom.    

"We have one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation," Doan said. "And we want to make sure every child in our state has a teacher in front of them that is able to be highly trained in their ability to look at reading difficulty, highly trained in their ability to diagnose math difficulties."    

  Kirstin Rogers did end up getting her full license. After she brought her case, the board said it had made a mistake. But now that she has her license, Rogers says the experience shows Minnesota needs to clarify and update its licensing requirements.     

Applicants who need extra work toward a license are supposed to contact a university and get a list of requirements. Rogers did that. After her discouraging response from the University of Minnesota, she tried again at Minnesota State University, Mankato — with a very different outcome.    

"When I sent them all of my transcripts and all that, they cleared me of all education courses," she said. 

No student teaching was needed, just a couple of extra classes.    

"Depending on where you go, you get completely different requirements," Rogers said.     

The Legislature ordered the board to address such inconsistencies last year. The board missed a Jan. 1 deadline to streamline out-of-state licensing rules, and says it expects to have a new process by spring.

Correction (Jan. 29, 2016): An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the stated motive of the Board of Teaching in appealing a judge's order that it resume so-called portfolio licensing. It also misstated the current status of the portfolio program. The current version is correct.