The Empire Strikes Back at Teacher Licensing Reforms

The Empire Strikes Back might just as well be showing in St. Paul, featuring legislators committed to helping Education Minnesota beat back teacher licensing reforms.  Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton wants to dismantle reforms signed into law by then Gov. Mark Dayton to open up the teaching ranks and streamline the licensing system.

Her legislation would completely undo reforms that were years in the making, according to Session Daily.

The current system went into effect in 2017, creating four tiers of teacher licenses. The goal was to simplify the process, create different pathways to enter the profession, attract out-of-state teachers, and, ultimately, address the state’s teacher shortage.

Education Minnesota apologists claim the hard-fought improvements designed to attract a wider variety of educators into the classroom actually undercut the quality of education.

Kunesh-Podein said the changes have led to a lowering of standards for teachers, and reasoned the proposed modifications would ensure teachers have proper preparation and are working toward advanced licensure.

“We don’t need to lower the standards to make the teaching license system easier to navigate, and that’s the bottom line,” she said. “And that’s why I’m introducing HF1329 to fix the tiered-licensing system and restore our high standards for teaching.”

In reality, the bill’s author seeks to restore an antiquated licensing system that has long served as a feeder system for the teachers union.  But one of the state’s largest school districts opposed the DFL’s attempt to turn back progress.

Opponents of the proposal, including Nicole Tuescher, executive director of human resources at Anoka-Hennepin Schools, noted that the lower tier pathways don’t equate to less effective teachers. Instead, they allow districts to offer specialized courses, like sign language, dance, visual arts, and career and technical education programs.

“Please note that less than 1.5 percent of teacher positions in Anoka-Hennepin are filled with Tier 1 and Tier 2 teachers, but these are positions that may go unfilled if the bill was adopted,” she said. “As a former teacher who took a traditional pathway into education, please trust our school districts and our HR professionals to ensure that the best teachers — whether it be Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 or Tier 4 — are before our students.”

Others point out there’s not been enough time to grade the reforms so recently put in place. Perhaps that’s why Kunesh-Podein is in such a hurry to act before the anticipated effectiveness of the changes becomes all too evident.