Minnesota Awards State’s First Alternative Teacher Preparation Grants

This week, the Office of Higher Education announced the five recipients of the State’s first Alternative Teacher Preparation Grant Program:

  • Southwest West Central Service Cooperative
  • Learning Disabilities Association of Minnesota
  • Lakes Country Service Cooperative
  • The New Teacher Project
  • Teach For America

According to Larry Pogemiller, the Commissioner of the Office of Higher Education, “The five chosen programs all demonstrate innovative and promising teacher preparation methods that can help Minnesota schools meet the challenge of finding the teachers they need.”

The grant program was created during the 2017 legislative session and allocated $750,000 for new alternative preparation programs that intended to do one or more of the following:

  • Fill Minnesota’s teacher shortage in licensure areas that the commissioner has identified.
  • Recruit, select, and train teachers who reflect the racial or ethnic diversity of the students in Minnesota.
  • Establish professional development programs for teachers who have obtained teaching licenses through alternative teacher preparation programs.

Importantly, only a “school district, charter school, or nonprofit” were eligible for the grant monies, meaning that institutions of higher education were not. Additionally, in order to be eligible, programs must also have been in operation for three continuous years in Minnesota or any other state, and are working to fill the state’s teacher shortage areas. Finally, the commissioner of Higher Education must give preference to programs that are based in Minnesota.

This post will provide a description of an alternative teacher preparation program, as well as a description of the programs for each of the grant recipients.

What is an Alternative Teacher Preparation Program?

In 2011, the Minnesota legislature passed a law that created the opportunity for alternative teacher preparation programs to be created. According to a 2016 Office of the Legislative Auditor report, school district, charter schools, and nonprofit organizations are eligible to establish an alternative program by partnering with a college or university that had an alternative teacher preparation program. Additionally, school districts and charter schools are also able to establish an alternative program by forming a partnership with certain nonprofit organizations, but only after they had consulted with a college or university with a teacher preparation program.

Legislation passed during the 2017 session revised the 2011 legislation and created a clearer path to approval for alternative teacher preparation programs. Specifically, the 2017 legislation removed the partnership requirement. Those changes did not officially take effect until July 1, 2018.

Alternative teacher preparation programs are different from a “nonconventional” program in that they are not offered by a traditional teacher preparation institution and do not need to be associated with a particular school district, charter school, or nonprofit organization.

Even though the opportunity for the creation of alternative teacher preparation programs has been in statute since 2011, no such programs exist in the state. In 2012, Teach for America sought to become the state’s first alternative teacher preparation program, but instead ended up partnering with Hamline University, then the University of Minnesota, and now with Saint Mary’s University to create a “nonconventional” program.

Southwest West Central Service Cooperative

The SWWC Service Cooperative will use their grant money to create a program that ameliorates the “extreme teacher shortage experienced by both SWWC and its more than 55 member school districts.” Specifically, SWWC’s preparation program would train special education teachers, particularly in the areas of Early Childhood Special Education, Emotional or Behavioral Disorders, and Academic and Behavioral Strategists. In the future, they would also likely create programs for Teaching English as a Second Language.

With regard to the teacher training, SWWC said that they would embed experiential learning with on-the-job training, mentorship, and coaching in order to meet teacher licensure requirements and prepare teacher candidates for the changing needs of their students.

Learning Disabilities Association

LDA will use their grant money to create an alternative teacher preparation program for teachers pursuing the special education Academic and Behavior Strategist licensure. Also, with their “extensive partnerships” throughout the Twin Cities and surrounding cities, LDA Minnesota staff will “develop field experience that aligns with coursework with experienced licensed classroom teachers in diversified classrooms.” Another important piece for LSA is the recruitment and retention of diverse candidates, which they plan to do through the development of a strong mentorship and coaching program.

Lakes Country Service Cooperative

LCSC will create an alternative pathway for the shortage areas in Career and Technical Education:

  • Teacher/Coordinator of Work-Based Learning
  • Core Skills for Career and Technical Education
  • Construction Careers
  • Medical Careers
  • Transportation Careers
  • Manufacturing Careers

LCSC’s licensure program will use micro-credentialing, which is a program structure that will be set up with a “stack” of “multiple micro-credentials that are aligned very specifically to the content standards required for that particular license. As candidates progress, they will submit artifacts to be reviewed (by content experts) in relation to the specific micro-credential.” If the candidate provides enough evidence of competency, then the micro-credential will be granted and once the candidate obtains each required micro-credential then their program is considered complete.

The New Teacher Project

TNTP, a national organization that works with more than 30 cities around the country, will expand TNTP Academy—their alternative pathway to teacher certification that currently operates in four states—to Minnesota in order to increase the state’s teachers of color. Specifically, the program aims to recruit and train a “diverse pool of candidates to teach in the hardest-to-staff positions in partnering districts and charter schools across the state.” TNTP noted that about half of the Fellows they train identify as people of color, as compared to 18 percent of teachers nationwide.

Teach For America

Teach for America (TFA) has operated in the Twin Cities since 2009. They currently have 30 corps members and over 675 alumni in the region. TFA indicated that they wanted to “Launch an initial cohort of 30 teachers, 40% of whom are teachers of color and 30% from low-income backgrounds with over a third preparing to teach in subject-area shortages.”

Specifically, they will pursue initial program approval in July 2018 for the following shortage areas:

  • Middle and High School Mathematics
  • Middle and High School Science
  • Elementary, Middle, and High School English as a Second Language

After launching and implementing these programs, TFA plans to expand to special education licensure, which is another shortage area.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on the Alternative Teacher Preparation Grant Program, as well as alternative teacher preparation programs in Minnesota.

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