Updates and Insights: Vol. 1, No. 7

Mailing Date: 
July 22, 2005
Vol. 1, No. 7July 22, 2005Jon Schroeder, Editor

Welcome to the seventh edition of Education|Evolving’s electronic newsletter -- UPDATES AND INSIGHTS.


Minnesota’s State Legislature has taken a bold step forward in aligning current and future innovative learning models with efforts to strengthen teacher quality. As part of an omnibus K-12 education bill adopted July 13, the state’s lawmakers set in motion creation of a new "interdisciplinary teaching license" by the Minnesota State Board of Teaching.

The new license will set high standards for teachers working in schools where students learn content in more than one subject at a time using technology, projects, service learning or other non-traditional teaching/learning methods.

The new license is also consistent with the goals of both federal and state policy -- that every student in every classroom will have their learning supported by a highly qualified teacher. And, it’s consistent with Minnesota’s historic leadership in promoting high quality and innovation by expanding public school choice and choices.

Although directly impacting only Minnesota, the new license will have important implications for all states as they struggle to promote both high quality teaching and innovative and effective learning environments for their students.

The new legislation directs the Minnesota State Board of Teaching -- by January 16, 2006 -- to develop "proposed licensure requirements for teachers of interdisciplinary curriculum to facilitate learning in state-approved innovative schools and programs." The legislation also requires the State Board to develop recommendations for "accommodating the needs for appropriately licensed teachers in charter, alternative, small and rural schools."

Although not explicit in the legislation, it’s presumed the new interdisciplinary teaching license will apply only in innovative schools and programs that meet criteria established by the Minnesota Department of Education.

Implementing the new license will also require a parallel and longer-term initiative on the part of Minnesota’s teacher training institutions and programs to prepare current and future teachers to work in interdisciplinary and other innovative learning environments.

And its backers are supporting both public and privately-funded research to track the long-term results of interdisciplinary and other innovative teaching/learning environments in preparing students to become productive and contributing members of society.


Minnesota education leaders -- including the State Board of Teaching and officials in the State Department of Education -- have been working for the last several years on various elements of the accountability, teacher quality and other provisions of the federal "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) legislation. One such element involves teacher licensure and other requirements to ensure every Minnesota public school teacher will be "highly qualified."

NCLB offers states a number of options to determine if teachers are "highly qualified," including college majors, passing content-specific tests and experience at teaching in a particular subject area. While states have flexibility in determining what mix of factors it will use to define "highly qualified," the law and related federal guidance places a heavy emphasis on teachers being able to demonstrate competencies in core subject areas. The premise, of course, is that teachers teach -- and students learn -- one subject at a time.

Backers of the new Minnesota license strongly support NCLB’s goal of significantly enhancing teacher quality. They also agree that all students and all schools must be accountable for achieving the high academic standards that are also required by NCLB and related state law. They agree that these two objectives are linked -- that achievement of high academic standards requires highly qualified teachers. And they agree that, in settings where learning is organized around traditional core academic subjects, teachers should be able to demonstrate competencies in the core subject areas they teach.

At the same time, a growing number of students have made the choice or been referred to schools that may not teach core academic subjects as we traditionally think of them -- at least not one core subject area at a time. Many of these settings also involve fundamentally different roles for students as independent and self-directed learners, extensive use of technology, different and more collaborative relationships between students and adults and very different roles for teachers. In some settings, what we have historically called "teachers" might more accurately be called "facilitators of student learning" or "content acquisition managers."


These diverse settings recognize the reality that not all students learn in the same ways and at the same pace. No single program can meet the needs of what is now the most diverse cadre of students this country has ever known. This diversity of students and learning styles also comes at a time when federal and state policies have declared that all students shall be educated to high standards and that no child shall be left behind.

These diverse learning environments also reflect the belief that the ultimate goal of education is to produce actively engaged citizens, productive workers and lifelong learners. The goal is not just an accumulation of credits from having taken traditional courses and subjects in school. Many of these programs work to achieve these broader competencies in different ways than do traditional course and subject models.

Not surprisingly, the competencies needed to teach in these different kinds of settings are also different. But, they are no less rigorous and no less demanding. In fact, backers of the new license argue that teachers who don’t posses these different sets of skills are not "highly qualified" to work in these different types of schools. As such, these competencies deserve full recognition in the federal- and state-required processes for training teachers and in affirming their qualifications to work in the broad range of teaching and learning environments that are now being used.

In summary, backers of the new license believe the time has now come to formally recognize these realities by creating a new type of teaching license that identifies and codifies the competencies needed to work in non-traditional learning environments. They feel this approach is highly superior to a continued dependence on temporary licenses, waivers and other approaches that do little more than delay or avoid realities -- without the formalized assurances of quality that should come through formal licensure tied to a rigorous set of qualifications.


The new interdisciplinary license is important because it has significant implications for a growing and vital segment of public education that includes three broad categories of schools or programs:

  • Alternative schools, both urban and non-metro, that are often small in scale and place an emphasis on establishing a culture and set of adult/student relationships that will attract, retain and engage students that have previously not succeeded in traditional educational settings.
  • Small, often rural secondary schools, that are struggling to offer a broad and rigorous curriculum to students -- against financial realities that challenge their capacity to offer individual academic subjects that are all taught in traditional courses by on-site teachers who meet content-specific "highly qualified" requirements.
  • Charter and district secondary schools that use a variety of non-course-specific teaching and learning methods, including project-based learning, service learning, internships, inter-disciplinary classes and others -- all of which require teachers to have different, but still highly skilled competencies. This includes a growing number of district, charter and alternative schools and programs that use a variety of on-line learning technologies and teaching methods.

In addition, a variety of programs within traditional district high schools have similar needs for teachers with qualifications beyond subject matter competencies. They include certain special education programs with unique programming, programs utilizing community experts, experiential programs such as Outward Bound and many environmental education programs, service learning, on-line learning programs and other programs using interdisciplinary teams of teachers.


The Minnesota State Board of Teaching now has the job of determining which competencies will be needed to qualify for the new license. While not intended to be a complete list, examples of such competencies could include the knowledge or ability to:

  • Facilitate interdisciplinary learning experiences that bring students to integrate knowledge, skills and methods of inquiry across state subject-area standards.
  • Exhibit the skills of a facilitator of student personal learning plans that can be used to individualize instruction for every student to meet differing learning styles, interests and multiple intelligences.
  • Use community, parent, technology and other "non-school" resources to foster student learning.
  • Demonstrate skills in creating positive relationships and partnerships with students and families -- helping to create the type of culture and environment in which students will be successful and sustained learners.
  • Use formal and informal assessments to determine student acquisition of not only required state standards but also broader life competencies such as those needed to be responsible citizens, productive workers and lifelong independent learners.


Design and implementation of Minnesota’s new interdisciplinary teaching license will not be done in isolation. In addition to working with both the State Board of Teaching and Department of Education on details of the license, its backers have made a commitment to work in three parallel areas:

  • Changing teacher preparation for non-course-based learning environments
  • Backers of the license are committed to working with traditional teacher training institutions and other emerging resources for teacher preparation and professional development to help establish or strengthen programs to prepare individuals to work in non-course-based and other non-traditional settings. This is clearly a long-term need and investment -- in achieving the goal of making formal licensure an option for large numbers of teachers working in such settings. Two leading teacher training institutions -- Hamline University and Minnesota State University, Mankato -- have already indicated a strong interest in launching initiatives to train teachers to qualify for the new license and work successfully in interdisciplinary setting.

  • Promoting creation of high quality non-course-based learning environments
  • Backers of the new license are also committed to working with the Minnesota Department of Education and charter school sponsors, districts and others to help create high quality schools using non-course-based learning methods. This includes working with existing alternative programs, charters and rural and other district high schools to inform them of the options, to connect with technical assistance resources and to help match them with qualified personnel.
  • Supporting long-term research on student life-long learning outcomes
  • Finally, backers of the new license will support the long-term research that is needed to rigorously evaluate the impacts of various teaching/learning methods on student achievement over time, on attendance and performance in post-secondary education and on becoming productive and contributing members of society. Such research can be useful to policy makers and educators in evaluating, comparing and improving what will be a growing variety of teaching/learning methods and schools and programs in which they are used.


The legislation launching creation of the new interdisciplinary teaching license received strong bi-partisan support in both houses of the Minnesota Legislature. And it was backed by a broad coalition of organizations that support innovative and often smaller teaching and learning environments.

These organizations -- linked through the Minnesota Quality Teaching Coalition -- represent the interests of rural districts, charter schools, district and contract alternative schools and district and charter on-line schools and programs. The coalition also included individuals associated with a growing number of innovative programs within larger traditional district high schools.

The coalition was chaired by Wayne Jennings, a highly respected Minnesota educator with extensive experience in the district, alternative and charter sectors. The four principal organizations making up the coalition are:

Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs -- MAAP was organized by a small group of educators in alternative education in the early 1980’s to provide a forum for networking, professional development and advocacy. Currently MAAP has over 800 members from over 300 ALC’s and alternative programs in Minnesota, surrounding states and Canada. Alternative education has significantly grown in Minnesota over the past 15 years -- from serving 4,000 students in 1988 to over 167,000 today.

Minnesota Association of Charter Schools -- MACS is a membership organization representing Minnesota’s 120+ charter schools and their nearly 20,000 students, as well as several dozen schools approved for opening or in various stages of planning and development. MACS has a number of current initiatives designed to ensure the growth and success of high quality charter schools including those on leadership, governance and accountability, facilities, fiscal management and special education.

Minnesota On-line Learning Alliance -- The Alliance is a broad coalition of school districts, charter and alternative schools and other innovative educators who make use of various on-line learning technologies and curricula. Founded in 2003, the Alliance has been working with state legislators and the state Department of Education to ensure fair and equitable funding for on-line learning programs and schools and to remove artificial financial and other limits on the growth of enrollment in these programs.

Minnesota Rural Education Association -- MREA is an association of 150 school districts located in non-metropolitan Minnesota. MREA was founded in 1985 by a group of school board members and administrators who believed that non-metro school districts needed a clearer voice in St. Paul. MREA is an inclusive, grassroots organization that, in addition to school districts, includes education agencies or organizations and individuals. Its board includes teachers, school board members and administrators.

In addition, the coalition backing the new interdisciplinary teaching license includes a number of highly respected individuals in Minnesota higher education, education policy and reform organizations and traditional school districts and district schools:

Deb Andries, president, Minnesota Rural Education Association and Reading First Teacher, Willmar; Jon Bacal, director, SchoolStart; Tim Berg, teacher, Fisher High School; Mark Bezek, superintendent, Fergus Falls Public Schools; Don Blaeser, superintendent, Fertile-Beltrami Public Schools; Rhonda Bonnstetter, teacher, Murray County Central Public Schools; Shirley Buschenea, school board member, Fulda Public Schools; Dan Daley, secretary-treasurer, International Assn for Learning Alternatives; Bob DeBoer, director, New Visions School; Walter Enloe, professor, Hamline University Grad School of Education; Joe Graba, senior policy fellow, Education/Evolving; Ted Kolderie, senior associate, Center for Policy Studies; Vernae Hasbargen, legislative director, Minnesota Rural Education Association; Desta Hunt, at-large board member, Minnesota Rural Education Association, Fergus Falls community Leader; Wayne Jennings, board member, Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs; Jerry Jensen, superintendent, Lake City Public Schools; Jim Kielsmeier, president, National Youth Leadership Council; Valerie Kyllo, interim co-director, Minnesota Association of Charter Schools; Terry Lydell, president-elect, Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs; Jay Martini, board chair, Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, director, Rochester Off-Campus; Ron Miller, school board member, Foley Public Schools; Synova Nelson, president, Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs, Riverbend ALC, New Ulm; Jerry Ness, executive director, Minnesota Rural Education Association; Cathy Nissen, charter coordinator, Project for Pride in Living; Aaron North, director, MN Charter Public School Resource Center; Holly Peterson, communications coordinator, Minnesota Association of Charter Schools; Tracy Quarnstrom, director, TRIO Wolf Creek Distance Learning Charter School; Jon Schroeder, coordinator, Minnesota Charter School Forum; Justin Testerman, Charter coordinator; Volunteers of America; Doug Thomas, Director EdVisions Schools; Chris Thompson, legislative chair, Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs, Mounds View Area Learning Center; Tess Tiernan, interim co-director, Minnesota Association of Charter Schools; Bob Wedl, director, Minnesota Sponsor Assistance Network; Scott Wurdinger, Coordinator, Experiential Education Graduate Program Minnesota State University, Mankato.

For further background on the history of efforts to create innovative teaching and learning environments in Minnesota -- and the kinds of qualifications that could be incorporated into the state’s new interdisciplinary teaching license -- please click on the following on-line resources:

"Research on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Teaching and Learning," Prepared by Wayne Jennings for the Minnesota Quality Teaching Coalition.

"The History of Educational Innovations in Minnesota," Summary of remarks by Wayne Jennings, April 7, 2004

"Characteristics of Highly Qualified Teachers in Innovative, Project-Based, Small High Schools," Adapted from a paper by Ron Newell, Learning Program Director, EdVisions Schools, 2003

"Teacher Competencies for Traditional and Alternative Settings," Adapted from "Enhancing Professional Practice," by Charlotte Danielson, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA, 1996


We welcome your comments or questions on the new interdisciplinary teaching license now under development in Minnesota -- or on other issues now being tracked and influenced by Education|Evolving. Please direct your comments to info@educationevolving.org.

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