3 Things You Should Know About the Proposed Minnesota Teacher Licensure System

March 7, 2017 • Krista Kaput

Minnesota’s teacher licensure system has been a topic of contention for several years, with a March 2016 Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) report finding the system “complex, unclear, and confusing.”

There is currently a bill in the Senate, S.F. 4, which would completely restructure the state’s teacher licensure system. A companion bill, H.F. 140, from the House of Representative’s was heard in the Education Innovation Policy Committee on February 21st.

Last Thursday, the Minnesota Senate’s E-12 Policy Committee heard testimony on S.F. 4 from over 23 individuals from a number of the state’s colleges and universities, nonprofits, advocacy groups, school districts, and charter schools, with the vast majority in favor.

Below are the three things you need to know about the proposed teacher licensure system, as well as some of the praise and concerns that came from testimony during the Senate hearing.

1. Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board to Replace Board of Teaching

Under the new teacher licensure system, the Board of Teaching (BoT) would be replaced by the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB), which would consist of nine governor-appointed members. The PELSB would be in charge of issuing licenses for all teachers, except for supervisory personnel. This would be a change from the current, confusing system, where both BoT and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) issue teacher licenses.

Of the nine members, five must be teachers who are currently teaching in a Minnesota school, or at least were teaching when appointed. Further, at least one of the teachers must be in a charter school and another one must be licensed in either a geographic or license shortage area (ex. special education). For the remaining members, there must be one:

  • Superintendent
  • Elementary or secondary school principal
  • School district human resource director
  • Member of the public that may be a current or former school board member

Praise: Cyndy Crist, Legislation and Policy Communications Liaison for the Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (MACTE), indicated that MACTE supports the change and likes that PELSB would be teacher majority. Similarly, Denise Dittrich, Associate Director of Government Relations at the Minnesota School Boards Association, applauded the inclusion of a teacher in a geographic or content shortage area.

Concerns: Several individuals recommended that PELSB be expanded to include eleven members. Specifically, Dr. Fred Nolan, executive director for the Minnesota Rural Education Association, wanted one rural superintendent member and Crist advocated for a higher education member.

2. New Four-Tiered Teacher Licensure System

The proposed four-tiered teacher licensure system follows the recommendations from both the 2016 OLA report and Legislative Study Group on Educator Licensing. While the qualifications to receive one of the four licenses, as well as the number of possible renewals, are different in the Senate and House bills, the licensure tiers are not. The table below shows the tiered licensure system as defined in the Senate bill.

License Name Duration Renewal
Tier 1 One Year Unlimited
Tier 2 Two Years Up to two times
Tier 3 Three Years Up to three times
Tier 4 Five Years Unlimited

According to Senator Pratt, a co-author of the bill, the tiered system is not only meant to increase clarity and transparency, but it is also meant to provide a way for an individual to work their way towards the more permanent Tier 4 license.

The rationale behind Tier 1, the most contentious of the tiers, was to provide districts with extreme teacher shortages an uncomplicated route to get teachers. Specifically, Tier 1 is aimed to help fulfill teacher shortages for career and technical education (CTE).

Tiers 2 and 3 are for teachers who are working towards obtaining the more permanent Minnesota licensure found in Tier 4. Importantly, Tier 3 specifically mentions out-of-state teachers, which addresses the state’s ongoing problem of not granting Minnesota licenses to out-of-state teachers.

Praise: Several testifiers praised the proposed system’s clarity, with one calling it a “welcome change” from the state’s current system. Mitchell Cooper, Human Relations Manager for Intermediate District 287, asserted that the proposed system would make it easier for him to recruit teachers, particularly those who are out-of-state and work in the state’s shortage areas.

Concerns: There was a lot of concern raised around the Tier 1 license. Alex Liuzzi, Teacher Education Specialist for BoT, argued, “If a district is unable to hire a teacher, then they can place an unlicensed, unqualified person in the classroom indefinitely.” Adosh Unni, Director of Government Relations for the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), had similar concerns. He explained that MDE finds the unlimited renewal to be problematic and they recommend a cap.

3. Alternatives to the Required Licensure Exams

The Tier 2 and 3 licenses would not mandate that an individual pass the BoT required licensure exams currently in law (122A.18.2). Rather, there is a menu-like option for both licenses. For a Tier 2 license an individual must fulfill at least one of the following:

  • Enrolled in and making satisfactory progress in a PELSB approved teacher preparation program
  • Passing scores on all required skills, content area, and pedagogy licensure exams
  • Master’s degree in content area

Similarly, for a Tier 3 license, an individual must fulfill at least one of the following:

  • Successful completion of a PELSB approved teacher preparation program
  • Successful completion of an out-of-state teacher preparation program that includes field-specific methods training and field-specific student teaching
  • Have an out-of-state professional teaching license in good standing
  • Passing scores on all required skills, content area, and pedagogy licensure exams
  • National Board for Professional teaching Standards certification

Further, a Tier 3 or Tier 4 teacher licensure candidate that has not received a passing score, after two attempts, on the skills examination in reading, writing, or mathematics can demonstrate to the Board that they have the required skills by doing one of the following:

  • Completing a portfolio using board-adopted standards
  • Teaching for three years in a Minnesota school with at least one summative teacher evaluation AND showing satisfactory evidence of successful teaching

The House bill does not have a provision for an alternative to licensure exams.

Praise: Paul Spies from the Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color & American Indian Teachers in Minnesota, praised the alternatives, asserting that one of the major issues that has kept otherwise qualified teachers of color away is the exams, which have been “anything but basic skills.”

Concerns: Jim Bartholomew, Education Policy Director for the Minnesota Business Partnership, expressed his organization’s concern about allowing teachers the to receive a license if they had not passed the exams, arguing that they want to ensure the most qualified individuals are teaching our students.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on relevant policy topics throughout this session.

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