Teach for America trainees get Minn. approval

Published 1:50 pm Saturday, August 3, 2013

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s Board of Teaching approved teacher’s license waivers for some Teach for America trainees Friday, but warned the group to develop a more formal route to alternative licenses for its members.

Board members repeatedly warned Teach for America that the path they’re using to get teacher trainees into classrooms cannot be permanent.

In the past, the board has granted the waivers frequently, but it’s taken a tougher line this year. The state’s largest teachers union is opposed to the variances.

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Teach for America means to provide a path to the classroom for people with bachelor’s degrees but who don’t want to spend another year obtaining a teaching degree. Members can apply for a full Minnesota teaching license after two years of training and working in an urban school.

“I think this group is among the best prepared and strongest right out of the gate in terms of what I saw them doing with their kids over the summer,” said Crystal Brakke, executive director of Teach for America in the Twin Cities.

It’s not the traditional route to the classroom, but Teach for America contends that its method is a good way to put a smart, energetic and more diverse group of teachers into classrooms. Part of the program’s aim is to close the achievement gap between students from certain racial minorities and their better-performing white counterparts. The gap in Minnesota is among the biggest in the nation.

The state’s teachers union, Education Minnesota, takes issue with the group’s methods.

“When you have somebody on your team that you’re worried about — whether they’re prepared or whether they have the tools that are necessary to do well — that’s a concern to everyone,” union president Denise Specht said.

In June, the Board of Teaching denied a group of 48 license variances for Teach for America. The group and its supporters contend that reflected the influence of the union, which is a strong political ally of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

But Ryan Vernosh, a Teach for America trainee who’s also an Education Minnesota member, said the board isn’t holding trainees to a tougher standard than anyone else.

Vernosh, who was Minnesota’s teacher of the year in 2010, said the board must ask specific questions to determine if a variance is warranted.

“What are the individual cases?” he asked. “What are the needs for schools that show an express need to have a non-licensed teacher working with our kids?”

Brakke told the Board of Teaching that Teach for America was working on submitting plans to the state by the end of the year for a permanent solution to the licensing dispute.