With legislation soon to be voted on, Minnesota is racing to reverse hard-won improvements to its teacher licensing system, which has affected nearly 800 teachers, a disproportionate number of whom are teachers of color, amid a significant teacher shortage.
HF1224/SF1477 It would eliminate the path to permanent licensure for teachers who have demonstrated success as Level 2 Licensed Educators (defined as three years of experience and a positive summative assessment), and therefore have a master’s degree in a content area, have completed a teacher preparation program, or are currently enrolled in a program Preparation is the only way to stay in the profession regardless of the school’s need or teacher’s influence.
This year, the first possible year, 99 teachers have taken advantage of this pathway to move from their Level 2 to their Level 3 teaching license. Seventeen of them were teachers of colour, and 25% of all current Level 2 license holders are teachers of colour. To some, these numbers may seem small, but in a situation where less than 6% of teachers identify as people of color, every teacher counts.
Research confirms that both white and BIPOC students benefit socially, emotionally, and academically when learning from diverse educators. Eliminating the only path to licensure that does not require enrollment in a traditional preparation program or navigating the arduous portfolio process will undoubtedly force teachers of color out of the classroom, undermining efforts to increase teacher diversity and impairing the educational experience for all Minnesota children. And while the drafters of the bill amended the legislation to “grandfather” (a term rooted in racism) in the licensing status of current Level 2 teachers, this does nothing to protect future teacher candidates who might have entered the profession if that avenue remained open. If the teachers who came through the program are good enough to keep, why not keep this important pathway, which we know breeders of color are most likely to use, open to the next generation of teachers?
How did we get here?
In 2016, the Office of the Legislative Auditor, the agency responsible for promoting accountability and promoting good government administration, Announce breaking the teacher licensing system. The resulting tiered licensing system he oversees Professional Teacher Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB)Created just five years ago through bipartisan compromise and hard work, it’s finally getting rid of arbitrary barriers, instead offering effective teachers clear paths to entering and staying in the classroom. This system respects school leaders and seasoned teachers as professionals, and considers the diversity of skills, experiences, and expertise that contribute to great teaching, and most importantly, the impact of values on students above bureaucracy.
Teachers do not require these changes. Not parents, principals or school board management. The Minnesota School Boards Association has voiced opposition to this bill, as have 17 other education advocacy organizations on the matter. An open letter to the legislature. Our members at Educators for Excellence-Minnesota (E4E-MN) and this broad coalition agree: This law is moving the needle on teacher diversity, teacher hiring, and teacher shortages in the wrong direction.
Like any complex system, Minnesota’s current teacher licensing system is not perfect. Rather than quickly wipe out the path of years of experience now, we have an opportunity to build on its current strengths. If the legislature truly believes that the system is not working, it should create a committee to propose reforms, but dissolving the current system without an alternative, while in short supply of teachers, is the wrong decision and will undermine progress to fill critical teaching shortages and increase teacher diversity.
Paula Cole is Executive Director of Educators for Excellence – Minnesota.