Though educators agree Minnesota’s teacher licensure system needed reform, some wonder if the system signed into law May 30 is the right solution.
To address some issues with the system, the state Legislature overhauled Minnesota’s teacher licensure system by creating a new four-tiered system for licensure — each with varied levels of requirements. Some aspects of the new system require only a bachelor’s degree or less.
A March 2016 report from Minnesota’s legislative auditor said, “Minnesota’s teacher-licensure system is broken and needs significant changes.”
While educators agree on existing problems with teaching in Minnesota — like the state’s shortage of teachers, especially in rural areas — finding consensus on what changes are needed has been more elusive.
Misty Sato, associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development’s curriculum and instruction department, said aspects of the new system could help existing problems, but may create new problems.
There’s a difference between knowing what to do and teaching others what to do, Sato said.
But Daniel Sellers, executive director of the reform group EdAllies, pushed back on the idea that teaching requires a graduate degree.
“What really mattersis whether or not you’re able to perform in a classroom,” Sellers said, “teaching has to be more than just a transcript. It has to be about your ability to actually educate kids.”
The new system might address the teacher shortage, Sato said, but the divide between schools with resources and those without would grow.
Historically, Sato said, “lesser-qualified people end up in our highest-need schools.”
But Sellers takes issue with the people who insist teachers need a certain education level while also fiercely guarding the path to licensure.
“[Colleges] have a vested interest” in decidingwho receives a license, Sellers said.
Sellers said a graduate degree is the right path for some, but firsthand experience is better for others.
“There’s more than one way to prepare a teacher for the classroom.” Sellers said.
Olivia Rieck, president of CEHD’s undergraduate student board, said in an email that some without teaching degrees may be good at the job, but that might not be true for all of them.
“The way to fix the teacher position crisis is not by making it easier to become a teacher, but quite the opposite,” Rieck said, so the licensure system should “[hold] teachers to high standards, such as requiring them to have degrees in education.”
Teachers should receive more resources from the government and more respect from society, Rieck also said.
Despite signing the education bill into law, Gov. Mark Dayton wants the Legislature to “re-open” and “re-negotiate” the changes to how Minnesota licenses teachers.
“Some provisions undermine the high professional standards that have served Minnesota's schoolchildren extremely well,” Dayton said in a statement.
Denise Specht, president of the teacher union Education Minnesota, said “We’re not going to solve the teacher shortage by weakening quality.”
“I think that there could be promise in a tiered system,” Specht said, “but we need a system that parents can trust, that the public can trust and that maintains standards.”