Licensing reforms promise to improve teacher recruitment

Minnesota needs more teachers, and it needs more minority teachers.

School districts across the state can’t find enough qualified teachers to fill positions, especially in areas such as special education, English as a second language, math and science. Large, urban districts struggle to find applicants, and in smaller, rural districts where the pay is lower, it’s even more difficult.

And when teachers are found to fill those positions, they’re almost always white. Statewide, 95.8 percent of teachers are white. In Rochester, where 37 percent of students identify as non-white, only 2.9 percent of teachers are non-white. Things are even worse in Austin, where 45 percent of students are non-white but just four of the district’s 396 teachers are non-white.

In other words, there’s a good chance that students in Rochester and Austin could complete 13 years of public school and never have a teacher who isn’t white.

School districts aren’t entirely to blame. They can’t hire minority teachers if none are applying and the teacher education system isn’t attracting diverse students. Indeed, Austin and Rochester are trying to tackle the problem head-on by partnering with Winona State University to help paraprofessionals — most of them minorities — make the step up to become teachers. Thirty-eight paraprofessionals will get their teaching degrees this spring.

But this is a statewide problem that will require a statewide solution, which is why we endorse the Legislature’s effort to overhaul, streamline and simplify the state’s teacher licensing procedures.

Last year, Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor declared that the teacher licensure system is “broken,” filled with “undefined and unclear terms.” This didn’t happen overnight; it occurred bit by bit over the years as rules were tweaked, modified and muddied.

Making things worse is the fact that the both the state Board of Teaching and the Minnesota Department of Education are involved in the licensing process. This means that while it’s somewhat complicated to earn a teaching degree and license at a Minnesota college or university, it’s dizzying for a teacher from Texas or California to navigate the credentialing process in Minnesota.

Both the House and Senate have developed plans that would create a new Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board and eliminate the involvement of the Board of Teaching and MDE. Although the plans aren’t identical, they both include a four-tiered system that would make it easier for out-of-state teachers to come to Minnesota, and for non-teachers to more easily use their professional experience to begin new careers in the classroom.

That’s an important, necessary change. For years Minnesota has been trying find a way to fill high-need teaching positions with well-educated, skilled people who don’t currently have teaching degrees. Those efforts have failed miserably; not one alternative teacher-prep program is operating in Minnesota today.

The proposed system would give people the opportunity to enter the profession without teaching degrees. Their training would continue while they teach, with the goal that they eventually would be fully certified to teach in Minnesota — and they could do it without having to complete a costly, time-consuming, credit-based degree program through a college or university.

These changes make great sense and can fill crucial needs in our schools, including the need to have Minnesota teachers better reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of our students. Our colleges and universities aren’t training enough teachers, so school districts need to be able to recruit talented people from other states and other professions. That won’t happen as long as potential newcomers to our state have a hard time figuring out which hoops they have to jump through before they can begin preparing our next generation of nurses, scientists, welders, engineers — and teachers.

Post-Bulletin of Rochester, May 15