Guest Column: There were historic reforms in education

Published 11:29 pm Thursday, July 13, 2017

Guest Column by Rep. Sondra Erickson and Sen. Eric Pratt

School districts and charters can look forward to the historic education reforms signed into law this year that raise the bar, not only to put the best teachers in our classrooms, but also to keep the best teachers in our classrooms. These measures are a fundamental shift toward viewing our educators as true professionals by recognizing the value of their education, experience, and performance in the classroom.

For years, a broken teacher licensure system prevented far too many qualified teacher candidates, including teachers of color, from receiving a license to teach in Minnesota. Thus, following the findings of an independent and nonpartisan legislative auditor’s report, a bipartisan legislative study group put forward a bold vision to reform the licensing system focused on improving governance and transparency.

Sondra Erickson

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Our reforms closed the book on a dysfunctional Board of Teaching. The Board of Teaching remains the only state board to be found in contempt of court for their dereliction of duty to license qualified applicants. Their actions, or better put, inactions have only exacerbated the teacher shortage across the state.

A new Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board will replace the current Board of Teaching and merge with the licensing division at the Minnesota Department of Education. This reform combines and streamlines the responsibilities for teacher licensing into one accountable entity, and ends years of finger pointing in making effective licensing decisions.

Our current patchwork of licenses, exemptions, special permissions and waivers will be replaced with a transparent and rigorous tiered licensure structure, which places new and more stringent minimum requirements for educational or professional experience into law.

The new tiered licensure system repeals the community expert waiver that the Board of Teaching has used for 20 years to place thousands of unlicensed teachers in our classrooms with no minimum level of education or experience.

Eric Pratt

Under the new tiered system, these new teacher candidates will be required to complete new training requirements, participate in professional development, and demonstrate content knowledge. As a result, we will have not only have more educators in our classrooms, we will have more well-qualified teachers in our schools.

Additionally, the reforms signed into law by Gov. Dayton include the repeal of an outdated teacher retention policy that ignored teacher training, qualifications, or performance. A system of licensing that puts the best educators in our classrooms should not be undermined by a policy that reduces teachers to nothing more than a hiring date.

Some school districts literally tossed a coin to determine which teacher would be given a pink slip during teacher layoffs. By repealing the “Last In, First Out” teacher retention policy, we place layoffs due to budget cuts in the hands of local teachers and school administrators instead of in state law. We believe this common-sense change sends a clear message to current and future educators that merit matters.

As authors of our new teacher licensure policy, we seek the best teachers in our classrooms. We believe that these first reforms, after decades of failing and convoluted policies, were desperately needed to assure our parents that schools hire and keep only the best educators for our students.

Rep. Sondra Erickson is the House Education Policy chairwoman. Sen. Eric Pratt is the Senate E-12 Policy chairman.