Alternative doesn’t mean incapable

Teachers with experience outside the classroom can be an asset for school districts.

Michael Rietmulder

Aspiring teachers in Minnesota may soon have new avenues to earning their licenses. The Minnesota House of RepresentativesâÄô Education Reform Committee began discussion Thursday on two bills which would create alternative pathways for teacher licensing. Chief author of one of the bills, Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said at the hearing that while he has confidence in MinnesotaâÄôs traditionally licensed teachers, alternative programs would help diversify the teaching corp and give districts greater latitude in hiring candidates who fit their specific needs. âÄúItâÄôs not because I believe we have lousy teachers,âÄù Mariani said. âÄúBut itâÄôs also true that we have, even in this age of budget limitations, teacher shortages in given subjects and in given districts.âÄù MarianiâÄôs bill would allow districts to partner with colleges and nonprofits offering certification programs which meet certain guidelines and have been approved by the Department of EducationâÄôs Board of Teaching. He said such programs are viewed by private sector groups, minority communities and even some local union officials as viable ways to improve education and end the achievement gap. In the past, alternative licensing has been a point of contention between some lawmakers and Education Minnesota,the politically mighty, DFL-backing teachers union. But with a Republican-controlled Legislature and a DFL governor who wasnâÄôt initially supported by the union, the issue could be one of rare bipartisan agreement. Even the teachers union has softened its stance on alternative licensing as the session kicks off with a new dynamic at the Capitol. Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher told reporters last week that the union would support creating opportunities for mid-career professionals to teach their subject of expertise. âÄúThere should be accelerated pathways into the profession,âÄù Dooher said. Alternative licensure is not an end-all solution to what ails MinnesotaâÄôs public school system âÄî ballooning class sizes, an alarming achievement gap, to name a few areas of concern âÄî but it can serve as a means of bringing folks with diverse backgrounds and skill sets into the classroom. In her pitch for alternative licensure, Cecilia Retelle of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce talked to committee members of schools in Worthington, Minn., which have experienced a spike in non-native English-speaking students. With expanded licensing opportunities, Retelle said the district would have greater flexibility in finding a qualified bilingual candidate. âÄúIt gives them another tool to use when they have difficulty filling a chemistry position or finding the right fit of a math teacher for the population theyâÄôre serving,âÄù she said. Concerns that permitting alternative licensure will lower the quality of education schools can provide are exaggerated. Candidates with education degrees will maintain a competitive advantage on the job market. But affording districts the opportunity to consider qualified teachers with outside-the-classroom experience can only give them a better chance at finding the teacher best suited for their needs. âÄúWe either trust our local districts on this issue or we donâÄôt,âÄù Mariani said.