Minnesota House panel eyes tougher teacher licensing standards

Josh Crosson, senior policy director for education advocacy group Ed Allies
Josh Crosson, senior policy director for education advocacy group EdAllies, speaks at a news conference about a bill regarding teacher licensing requirements Monday at State Capitol.
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

The House Education Policy Committee on Monday debated legislation backed by the state's teachers union that would place stricter demands on licensing teachers.

The bill would amendlegislation passed two years ago and put into practice last year that set up four tiers of teacher licenses.

Under current law, teachers with fewer qualifications can get licensed at a lower tier, where licenses expire more quickly and are apt to have limited renewals. Higher qualifications lead to a higher tier.

The bill would toughen those tiered licensing requirements, speeding expirations and limiting the number of renewals in some cases. It's likely to be included in a larger House education measure later this session

"Minnesota has high-value standards for many professions — doctors and nurses, accountants and building trades. The same should be true of our teachers," said Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, the bill's sponsor.

Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union, strongly supports the bill, arguing the changes would boost the quality of Minnesota's teaching force. National research shows students tend to do worse in classes where teachers are teaching outside their chosen academic field, said Education Minnesota issues specialist Sarah Ford.

Some Republicans objected to the bill, as did groups representing school districts and school boards. Some argued it was too early to start tinkering with the tiered licensing system, which has been in effect for less than a year.

"Please allow the new tiered-licensure system some time to work before altering major pieces that we actively advocated for," said Denise Dittrich, a former DFL representative who now represents the Minnesota School Boards Association.

EdAllies, an education advocacy group, argued that toughening licensing rules would close off a pathway to high-achieving teachers now at the lowest, two-tier levels. Many of those teachers are in high-demand areas such as technical and special education; 23 percent are teachers of color, said Josh Crosson, senior policy director for EdAllies.

Jessye Lewis, a tier-one middle school physical education teacher at Hiawatha College Prep-Kingfield in Minneapolis, said his experience in the community — outside the traditional teacher prep programs — has given him the skills he needs to be a good teacher, and has made his gym class a top performer in his school's network.

"The tier-one and tier-two pathways have provided me a position where I can have a direct impact on our students and our community," Lewis told lawmakers. "Pushing teachers like myself out will be detrimental to our students, who oftentimes never have a teacher of color or lack the opportunity to learn from teachers who they can identify with."

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