U in talks to partner with Teach for America

Teach For America wants to someday create its own alt-licensing program.
June 26, 2013

The University of Minnesota is in talks with Teach for America about a potential partnership and could reach a decision in the coming weeks.

University faculty members and administrators have discussed “in depth” the possibility of partnering with TFA and “consulted widely with educators in the community and at other universities,” according to a written statement from Jean Quam, dean of the College of Education and Human Development.

TFA has partnered with Hamline University since 2008 but is now looking to work with the University to establish their own alternative licensing program in the state.

While the conversations between TFA and the University are in the
preliminary stages, the talks have already sparked controversy among some Minnesota education groups.

Robert Panning-Miller, a Minneapolis teacher and co-founder of the education advocacy group Public Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota, said he is opposed to the potential partnership.

“A college of education is trying to produce as good of a teacher as they can,” he said. “Pairing with Teach for America, which is trying to create a shortcut to a classroom … is a contradiction.”

Talks between CEHD and TFA have been in progress for several weeks and are still in preliminary stages, according to Quam’s statement.

But Panning-Miller said PEJAM members — including some who were at a recent information session — have voiced concerns that the University’s decision has already been made.

“Their takeaway was, this wasn’t a discussion, it was a presentation of possibilities,” he said. “That was really frustrating for us.”

Alternative licensing

A law was passed in 2011  allowing groups to create ways for teachers to enter Minnesota classrooms faster and without passing all licensing tests.

According to a written statement from TFA, the group approached the University because it’s interested in applying to be an alternative licensing program in the state.

Quam’s statement said TFA approached CEHD because of the college’s “expertise in teacher education.”

Some who have criticized TFA argue that the five-week teacher-training program for new members is not enough preparation to enter Minnesota classrooms.

In its statement, TFA said an agreement with the University could mean a training program that’s longer than the current five weeks, as well as “thinking creatively about ongoing professional development during the first and second years of teaching.”

TFA hasn’t submitted a formal application to the Minnesota Board of Teaching because they “want to wait and ensure [they] have a strong program in place that fully meets the law.”

Hamline partnership

Currently, the only TFA partner in Minnesota is Hamline University. The partnership agreement falls outside of the 2011 alternative licensing law, and the Minnesota Board of Teaching reapproves it annually.

Steve Henneberry, University of Minnesota spokesman, said there has been no contact between the University and Hamline regarding TFA.

Nancy Sorenson, dean of the Hamline School of Education, said Hamline’s relationship with TFA is strong.

“Our involvement is consistent with Hamline’s commitment to serving its urban communities and our continuing interest in exploring alternative paths for teacher preparation,” she said in a written statement.

TFA members are required to have a bachelor’s degree to be considered for a teaching position.

Once selected, Minnesota members attend a five-week teacher-training program before enrolling in a two-year program at Hamline that allows them to work toward a full license while also teaching in Minnesota K-12 schools.

“Pursuing alternative certification down the road would be different from our current partnership with Hamline … where we are currently an experimental program in their School of Education,” TFA’s statement said.

The statement also noted that in other regions, the organization maintains relationships with multiple colleges and universities to offer flexibility for members.

Quam said the University would also continue to offer traditional teacher education programs, even if a partnership is forged with TFA.

“It’s important to note that CEHD is considering the possibilities, advantages and complexities of offering both TFA and traditional teacher education programs.”

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