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A teacher's view: Why we have to fight the teacher-licensure labyrinth

I am a third-grade teacher in Minneapolis, entering my fifth year in the classroom. It took two stressful tests, more than 20 hours of preparation and $425 to become a teacher — not to mention all the required coursework to get my full teaching license. Maggie BormanFrankly, I’m grateful every year I don’t ever have to repeat the process.

I know teachers who wanted to teach in Minnesota but were so frustrated by our state’s licensure system that they took jobs in different states or left education altogether. We cannot continue to let great teachers slip through our fingers.

Minnesota’s licensure laws prevent our state from recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers from other states, from increasing our teacher diversity and from curbing our teacher shortages. Minnesota makes it far too difficult for teachers to transfer an out-of-state teaching license.

The intention behind not accepting other states’ licensure laws is a good one. We want to maintain high standards for licensure in our state. However, we can ensure teachers are well-trained experts in their fields without requiring them to complete redundant or unnecessary coursework. Great teachers from other states have to jump through too many hoops to become licensed in Minnesota.

The need to fix teacher-

licensure laws is picking up steam, both in Minnesota and nationally. TeachStrong, a coalition of more than 60 education organizations dedicated to modernizing and elevating the teaching profession, recently published a policy proposal calling for exactly the changes Minnesota should be making.

Minnesota, and the rest of the country, should make sure teacher-licensure exams are a meaningful measure of readiness to teach and include a performance component. Performance-based exams test the skills teachers actually need to be successful, including planning, assessing, managing and reflecting. What’s more, several existing multiple-choice licensure exams have been shown to be racially biased.

I had to take both the MTLE (Minnesota’s basic-skills assessment) and the EdTPA (a performance-based assessment out of Stanford University). I can, without a doubt, say the EdTPA tested more of the skills I needed in my classroom and was far more difficult than the MTLE. However, it was a burden to prepare for and pay for both these exams. States should make sure they utilize one rigorous, performance-based assessment — and that teachers do not have to pay an undue burden to enter the profession.

If states join together to institute a performance-based exam with a high passing score, we could elevate the caliber of teachers entering classrooms nationwide. Having a more-standard assessment and cut score would allow Minnesota to recruit talented teachers from other states.

All these changes to licensure should also be made in conjunction with better teacher preparation. Obviously, we can’t expect teachers to score well on a rigorous licensure exam if they haven’t received high-quality training from their preparation program.

In the face of Minnesota’s disappointing race-based achievement gaps, low high school graduation rates, and crippling teacher shortages, we must do something different to improve our public-education system. It’s time we elevate the teaching profession and ensure the best teachers have the chance to work with our students every day.

Maggie Borman is a third-grade teacher at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Northrop in Minneapolis and is a teacher policy fellow at MinnCAN (minncan.org), a statewide education advocacy group. She wrote this for the News Tribune.

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