American Experiment comments on PELSB’s attempt to redefine “cultural competency”

Minnesota’s Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board is writing rules to implement the state’s 2017 teacher licensing law. In the process, the board is trying to smuggle in an extremist definition of “cultural competency” training, which would shape teacher training for licensed teachers in both public schools and private schools.

Through this backhanded maneuver, the board is essentially attempting to replace the far more limited (and reasonable) definition of “cultural competency” that is already in law.

On June 8, the Center presented the following comment at a hearing on this issue before Administrative Law Judge Barbara Case:

The Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board has proposed new rules on teacher licensure in Minnesota. [“Proposed Permanent Rules Relating to Issuance, Renewal, and Validity of Teaching Licenses; Tiered Licensure; Licensure Via Portfolio; and Technical Changes to Teaching Licenses”] These rules include requirements regarding “cultural competency” training for applicants for teacher licensure. However, the proposed rules’ definition of “cultural competency” is far broader in scope than that of the controlling statute. As a result, it is invalid and should not be approved.

Minn. Stat. sec. 120B.30, subd. 1, par (q) sets forth the definition of cultural competency that the Minnesota Legislature has approved for purposes of teacher training. The law defines cultural competency as “the ability of families and educators to interact effectively with people of different cultures, native languages, and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

“Cultural competency,” then, is the ability to “interact effectively” with three categories of people: those of “different cultures,” different “native languages,” and “different socioeconomic backgrounds,” according to Minnesota law. The statute intentionally leaves school districts free to decide both the content of the training and the form of delivery that works best in each local context.

PELSB’s new rules propose changes that go far beyond—and materially alter—the language of Minn. Stat. Chap. 120B. The proposed rules not only mandate that school districts require that applicants be trained in concepts and categories that the statute does not contemplate, but also dictate both the design and the delivery method of that training.

The proposed rules state as follows:

‘Cultural competency training’ means a training program that promotes self-reflection and discussion including but not limited to all of the following topics: racial, cultural, and socioeconomic groups; American Indian and Alaskan native students; religion; systemic racism; gender identity, including transgender students; sexual orientation; language diversity; and individuals with disabilities and mental health concerns (emphasis added).

In other words, the proposed rules would require that districts insist that applicants receive “cultural competency” training in controversial, highly charged ideological theories such as “systemic racism” and “gender identity”—and topics such as “transgender students” and “religion”, not contemplated by the legislature—in order to be approved for a Minnesota teaching license and teach in their district schools.

PELSB’s proposed rules continue as follows:

Training programs must be designed to deepen teachers’ understanding of their own frames of reference, the potential bias in these frames, and their impact on expectations for and relationships with students, students’ families, and the school communities….

PELSB’s insistence on training organized around eliciting “self-reflection” by teacher applicants concerning the “potential bias” of their “own frames of reference” is, again, associated with controversial, ideologically charged theories wholly outside the scope of Minn. Stat. sec. 120B. These theories—grounded in notions such as “white privilege,” “white supremacy,” and “identity” politics generally—appear nowhere in the controlling statute.

In the SONAR for its proposed rules on teacher licensure, PELSB acknowledges that it has changed Minn. Stat. Chap. 120B’s definition of cultural competency in several “key ways.” The board claims the language and requirements it has added are intended to give school districts and charters the flexibility necessary “to personalize the training to the needs of the teacher and environment.”

In fact, the agency’s expansive new provisions would have the opposite effect. Rather than leave school districts and charters free to shape training to meet their individual needs, as the legislature intended, the proposed rules would require them to adopt “training” that aligns—not with the statute—but with theoretical constructs that promote very specific and controversial political ideologies or worldviews.

After extensive debate in 2017, the Minnesota Legislature determined that, going forward, teacher licensure requirements on cultural competency in our state would be governed by the definition of that term already included in Minn. Stat. Chap. 120B. PELSB’s proposed rules appear intended to use the rule-making process to upset the agreement that legislators reached at that time.

But the purpose of administrative rule-making is to implement policy made by Minnesota citizens’ democratically elected representatives. It is not to set or change policy.

If PELSB wishes to change and expand the definition of cultural competency and require school districts and charter schools to align training with it, it can submit legislation that does so and win its passage. Unless this occurs, approval of the board’s proposed rules would usurp the prerogative of the people’s elected representatives.

Judge Case’s report is due out August 6.