Some DFLers are bucking longtime ally, Education Minnesota, over a bill that opens up teacher licensing

Sen. Terri Bonoff
Sen. Terri Bonoff

There are times state legislators show up at the Capitol not wearing their party colors. And times they even break away from the interest groups that so often bind them.

For example, Tuesday morning, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, that would open up teacher licensure in the state.

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, is chairman of the House Education Committee, which passed a bill that would change licensure. All Republicans on his committee supported the change, as well as a handful of DFLers.

Politically, this is as against the grain as it gets.

Not only is alternative licensure a reform issue on Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s education agenda, but it’s also strongly opposed by Education Minnesota, the teachers union that is said to have such a powerful hold on the DFL.

One other important detail in the middle of this union/political/policy battle: Most believe that one of the major reasons the state flopped so miserably in the race for the feds’ “Race to the Top” dollars is the lack of alternative licensing procedures in the state. According to Bonoff, alternative licensing was worth about 21 points on the feds’ application and Minnesota probably got blanked in that category.

Trying again despite last year’s defeat
This is not a new issue for either Bonoff or Mariani. She successfully pushed the issue through the Senate last year, but it was lost in the House, despite the support of Mariani, who fears it will face a tough time again this year.

Rep. Carlos Mariani
Rep. Carlos Mariani

The political reality is that a number of DFL legislators, including House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, are seeking gubernatorial endorsement. Education Minnesota has not thrown its considerable weight behind any candidate yet. In other words, it’s not exactly the time that many DFLers are seeking a fight with a powerful union.

Bonoff wouldn’t comment on the impact of gubernatorial endorsement politics on this issue.

Mariani isn’t so sure that the governor’s race is behind House reluctance to buck the union.

“There are a lot of people who say, ‘These people have been our friends for a long time,’ ” he said. “It’s going to take some time. I think what’s happening is an evolutionary thing.” 

But both say that work being done on this key education issue shows that many legislators still are attempting to do meaningful business in the midst of the partisan bickering that dominates the headlines.

“This is mainstream reform policy,” Bonoff said.

Said Mariani, “Most people here honestly are trying to do thoughtful work.”

Closing achievement is core issue
At the core of this struggle is the achievement gap that plagues schools nationally.

Supporters such as Mariani see opening up licensure as a way to bring new blood into the educational system.

“I support teachers,” he said. “The last thing I want to be seen as doing is bashing teachers, but … We have an aging teaching force. We have a mono-cultural teaching force.”

And we have ingrained systems that are failing kids of color, he said. He cited University of Michigan studies that show “persistent patterns. If you attend a low income school, the chances are that you are not being taught a higher strain of math.”

He looks at the studies, he looks at the gaps and he thinks of his conversations with kids of color in St. Paul.

“I talk to 15- and 16-year-old boys,” he said. “They’re wonderful young kids, but they’re lost. They have outsized dreams, compared to their educations.”

His conclusion: “We need changes.”

For her part, Bonoff is excited by the enthusiasm she has seen in young college grads who have entered the Teach for America program.

“They’re the best and the brightest students,” she said. “Only a small percentage gets in. They [Teach for America] are committed to recruiting teachers of color. It’s not a magic bullet, but it’s a great opportunity.”

The problem with current Minnesota law, she said, is the requirement of special waivers for districts that want to hire from the Teach for America pool or any other non-traditional pool. After two years, it’s almost impossible for teachers from the non-traditional pool to stay in school districts no matter how successful they’ve been.

Education Minnesota disagrees on best strategy
To be clear, Education Minnesota also said it’s keenly focused on closing the achievement gap. But the union insists that changing licensure is not the answer.

Tom Dooher
Tom Dooher

“The students who have the greatest needs need the most qualified teachers,” said Tom Dooher, head of Education Minnesota during Wednesday’s “Midday” program on Minnesota Public Radio.

He called the idea of allowing more access to classrooms to those from such programs as Teach for America or of reaching out to older people with professional experience in the sciences and engineering to teach such things as math “unproven” ways to close the achievement gap.

The proven way to improve student achievement is to lower classroom sizes, with a student teacher of 18 to 1 the ideal, Dooher tells anyone who will listen.

Likely, the fundamental union reason for not wanting to see more doors open to people from non-traditional backgrounds is that in these difficult times, the landscape already is littered with teachers who have been laid off because of cutbacks.

It makes no sense to hire “unproven” people at a time when there are so many “qualified” teachers in our midst, Dooher says.

So how is Education Minnesota dealing with these DFLers who are opposing them on what the union sees as a fundamental issue?

“In traditional ways,” said Mariani.

What’s that mean?

He picked his words very carefully.

“When you’re in the den with the lion, you don’t kick the lion,” he said, laughing.

In fact, Mariani said, he believes there’s been a little less intensity from the union this year than a year ago.

Bill’s sponsors getting lots of feedback
To be sure, Mariani and Bonoff received scores of phone calls and emails from teachers when their bills came up.

Bonoff was frustrated by many of those calls.

“I’d get calls and e-mails, ‘Don’t lower standards,’ ” she said. “But the fact is, our bill has rigorous standards.”

Mariani also was frustrated by some of the calls, but he said also felt the pain of teachers.

“There were a torrent of calls and messages from irate teachers from all over the state,” he said. “It’s always hard when someone is angry with you. But painful as that is, you do understand that it’s real people you’re dealing with, not just some policy. You always shoot them back a call and let them express their concerns.”

Bonoff said she has not met with Dooher, though she’s been trying to meet with him since last June.

Mariani, though, has had a couple of quiet conversations with the union leader. At one point, the legislator suggested that the union “should not get in a public relations battle with Teach for America. You cannot win that battle.”

Always, he said, he tries to bring Education Minnesota to the table with this message: “Look, help shape this or it’s going to get shaped without you.”

In time, he believes the union will change its position. And he’s certain more and more DFLers will stand up for the changes. Mariani believes that President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, have given Democrats “cover” to move away from traditional party-union positions.

Meantime, though, it’s a handful of DFLers standing with Republicans. That may not be enough to change a policy, but it can shatter some stereotypes. 

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 03/18/2010 - 10:31 am.

    Good article Doug. TFA has also been named Teach for a while. I think Minnpost a while back had a wire story on how few TFA student teachers actually continue on altho I could be wrong it probably an interpretation. Meantime cover KIPP.

  2. Submitted by Iven Coffee on 03/18/2010 - 11:16 am.

    Dan, in fact, 61 percent of Teach For America corps members continue to teach beyond their two-year corps commitment.

    This retention rate is similar to retention estimates for other new teachers in low-income communities. 44 percent of TFA members remained in their placement schools beyond their two-year commitment.

    http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/Donaldson.TFA.AERA.pdf

  3. Submitted by Eric Schubert on 03/18/2010 - 11:18 am.

    KIPP rocks. Check it out here at http://www.kipp.org. Kudos to Rep. Mariani and Sen. Bonoff to focus on getting results for Minnesota, not bowing to the status quo.

  4. Submitted by Eric Andersen on 03/18/2010 - 11:41 am.

    This is counterintuitive. They want to hold teachers to a higher standard and make them accountable. They also want to greatly lower the bar on the qualifications that people need to be a teacher. There is absolutely no way that watering down the requirements for teacher licensing is going to be a good thing for our schools – ever. If you already have a college degree, going back and getting a teaching license really isn’t a big deal. I did it in a year and a half. Anyone that isn’t willing/able to do that probably isn’t the best candidate for a teaching job.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/18/2010 - 11:42 am.

    “Said Mariani, “Most people here honestly are trying to do thoughtful work.”

    I’ve heard Democrat legislators say that a million times, but this is the first time in memory I believe it.

    God knows I’ve had my differences with both Mariani and Bonoff, but I am very happy to have this opportunity to extend a sincere “thank you” to them.

  6. Submitted by John Ferman on 03/18/2010 - 12:12 pm.

    I thought licensure was all about establishing credentials and meeting professional qualifications. How does the licensing measure being pushed affect the purpose of licensing. Other professions have to obtain licenses or certifications, like engineers, architects, doctors, nurses, etc – all of these require a demonstration of professional qualification.

  7. Submitted by John Fitzgerald on 03/18/2010 - 01:06 pm.

    Being an educator is a difficult profession and requires training in a quality program. If anyone is serious about being a teacher and is serious about providing the quality education Minnesota children deserve, then they should be properly trained. A five-week training course with night classes to follow is not sufficient training. Making teacher licensing requirements more thorough rather than less would seem to be an easy decision.

  8. Submitted by Eric Andersen on 03/18/2010 - 01:36 pm.

    How would other professions that need to be licensed like it if a person was able to get an ‘alternative license’ with one-eighth the coursework, a one year on-the-job ‘internship’ and be able qualify for the exact same job. Do you think quality would increase or decrease with these ‘alternative licenses.’

  9. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/18/2010 - 02:11 pm.

    Once again Education MN proves that it is more interested in power and control than education.

    Let us have “change we can believe in!” Let us have education “reform” not defending the status quo.”

  10. Submitted by dan buechler on 03/18/2010 - 02:54 pm.

    Ivan, you are probably ignoring the more recent Stanford study that shows actually less civic engagement and more interest in careerism.

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/18/2010 - 03:16 pm.

    Eric, speaking as a credentialed Engineer, I don’t have any problems welcoming qualified colleagues through any means.

    In the private sector, qualifications are self evident irrespective of credentialing. If they’re good, they’ll thrive. If not, they’ll be unemployed….we can’t say the same for the teaching “profession” today, can we?

  12. Submitted by Herbert Davis on 03/18/2010 - 03:29 pm.

    This isn’t just politics.

    We should be strengthening teacher preparation and recognizing teachers as professionals. Suggesting we could get a better deal by making it easier to choose education if your other job goes south is close to the dumbest idea I’ve heard.

    Want diversity? Support diversity by grants to diverse groups who will go to college and become prepared to enter the profession!

  13. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/18/2010 - 04:54 pm.

    Can we PLEASE acknowledge, from the start, the special challenges faced by inner city schools in neighborhoods where many students are living lives of poverty, homelessness, where they’re trying to learn English, with frequent criminal activity around them, etc., etc., etc.

    These are the primary ingredients for the much-ballyhooed “achievement gap.” Educating such students is far more hands on, labor intensive, and requires far more resources than the average student body requires.

    Recent government policy has done serious funding damage to the school districts that must, by their location deal with these complex issues that the average rural or suburban school NEVER has to worry about.

    The reality of allowing folks from other fields to enter teaching after having taken a brief course (likely less educational time than a person who has left the profession for a few years would be required to take to be regain a teaching certificate that has lapsed), will be that the many, increasingly-impoverished school districts will, of necessity, use this as a way to hire teachers far more cheaply that the fully-qualified variety.

    Those teachers are quite likely to find teaching much more difficult than they imagined and leave after a few weeks or months creating frequent, disruptive turnovers in staff in the poorest school districts across the state.

    “Teach for America,” though an excellent program is not a helpful example of the types of people this alternate licensure would attract. It’s just a red herring.

  14. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/18/2010 - 05:14 pm.

    OK, Tom. Let’s take your engineering firm, and turn its management over to a group of interested citizens from the area surrounding your location – citizens who may or may not know anything about engineering or the role of engineers in any project in which your firm is involved.

    Under these circumstances, the circumstances of the average teacher back in the days before tenure, any citizen whether they are affected in any way by the work you’re doing, can decide they’re offended by what you’ve done in the community, by how you look, by how you drive, by how you spoke to them (or their child), or that you aren’t giving them (or their spouse or child) special considerations to which they feel entitled, and come to that citizen board and successfully demand that you be fired.

    The teaching profession has a high bar for entry and protections for continuing teachers for excellent reasons, protections that are not needed by the average engineer.

    You say that you would accept any qualified person in your engineering firm, but what if the state decided that good engineers were too hard to get (or too expensive) and decided that the average auto mechanic could take a five-week course and join you as an engineer. This is the equivalent of what we’re talking about for teachers.

    Of course I have EVERY confidence that each and every engineer in your firm and each and every engineer whom you know does flawless work and works as diligently as is humanly possible for every minute of every day. Surely anyone doing less has long since been drummed out of the profession, and only those who are not “good” enough to thrive are unemployed, right? There’s not a single person employed by your firm whom everyone regards to be “dead weight?”

    Of course there are teachers with shortcomings, but unless and until you demand perfection in your own profession, how dare you expect across-the-board, flawless performance from those in any other profession?

  15. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/18/2010 - 06:42 pm.

    “…what if the state decided that good engineers were too hard to get (or too expensive) and decided that the average auto mechanic could take a five-week course and join you as an engineer.”

    If your average auto mechanic can do industrial controls and automation projects after a five week course, fine. If he can’t, our customers are not going to give us any projects for him to do and he’s gone.

    In the private sector, “tenure” is earned and re-evaluated every year…it’s high time the teaching profession starts walking the talk and joins it’s professional colleagues.

    I’m completely confident there are plenty of teachers up to the challenge.

    As of today, there’s not anyone working in our office that anyone considers “dead weight”. We’ve got a great team; thanks for asking!

  16. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/18/2010 - 07:44 pm.

    If the teacher were the only variable in student achievement, then merit pay would be fair. Educating America’s children takes more than a good intentions and a college degree. It takes planning, dedication, lots of knowledge, patience, the ability to think and adjust on the fly and a desire to educate – not just teach.

    So, if you ask me if Teach for America is the cure, my answer is probably not. A cure would involve realizing that learning can not be mandated, giving teachers the training and tools (including technology) needed to teach 21st Century kids and freeing up administrators from paperwork that prevents them from monitoring teachers; helping them with what they lack or letting them go if need be.

  17. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/18/2010 - 11:31 pm.

    There’s some truth to both sides, but among the things that makes this issue so difficult is that there’s no consensus whatsoever in this society about whether or not teachers are, in fact, professionals. Much of the discussion is being carried on by people whose educational expertise consists primarily of “I went to school.”

    As a society, we are also very much in denial about causes of the appalling achievement gap. Well-prepared or not, tenured or not, all that a teacher can do is OFFER what s/he has learned to the young people s/he is trying to teach. To expect teachers to work motivational miracles with every child they see on a daily basis is to be delusional.

    Kids show up at school each day with attitudes about why they’re there and what they should do and how they should behave – none of which came from the teacher or the school. Teachers are important, to be sure, but parents play a crucial role, and no one seriously suggests “alternative parenting” for kids whose parents are themselves so uneducated or so overworked that they have little or nothing to offer their children, or so self-absorbed they have no idea what their offspring are doing – or not doing – at school.

    In study after study, the single most reliable indicator of a child’s academic success in the U.S. is her parents’ socioeconomic status. It trumps every other factor, including teacher preparation, school plant, school/student diversity, graduation standards, and so on, ad nauseum. Language is the key to every other kind of learning, and kids from literate homes have a huge advantage from the get-go in terms of vocabulary and linguistic skill.

    The societies that are kicking our collective K-12 academic butt around the planet are sometimes much more homogeneous than ours, but that excuse only goes so far. Mostly, the students our kids fare poorly against watch less TV, have longer school days, longer school years, do not play interscholastic sports, and, most importantly, are THEMSELVES accountable if they perform poorly. The responsibility for academic success rests on their shoulders, not on teachers, administrators, or the school.

    Good teaching is an art. It requires talents that go beyond academic preparation because the task is not simply to design a bridge that will hold a specified weight with a specified margin of safety. The laws of physics determine how strong the bridge needs to be. Teaching those laws of physics in a way that encourages a 15-year-old to remember them and find out more about them requires an ability to connect on a human level that not every engineer – or every teacher – is able to master, which is why it’s entirely possible to be a fine engineer and a lousy teacher.

    That’s among the reasons I was never happy with the way teachers were/are evaluated. Knowing your subject is only part of the necessary preparation. I would add that “Merit Pay” based on the achievement of students over whom you have virtually no control aside from the hour a day you have them in class in high school is laughably off the mark. A useful comparison would be to evaluate Governor Pawlenty on the basis of the achievements of the legislature.

    Much of the discussion of academic tenure similarly misses the point. I’m new to Minnesota, and don’t know the specifics of the tenure law here, but in other states where I’ve lived, no teacher is granted tenure without a probationary period – 3 to 5 years in the states I lived in previously. That’s ample time for administrators and colleagues, not to mention children and parents, to find out if Ms. “X” or Mr. “Y” has the necessary academic background and interpersonal skills to be effective with the kids they’re assigned to. The purpose of tenure is not to guarantee a lifetime job, it’s to protect teachers from intimidation and loss of their position for reasons that have nothing to do with their classroom preparation or performance.

    The academic achievement gap is beyond appalling. It will destroy our economy and society if it’s not addressed and corrected. Unfortunately, the corrective effort that I see seems to be aimed primarily at absolving parents and students of responsibility for student learning. One easy supporting example is simply to ask upon whom the negative consequences fall if/when students perform poorly on a statewide standardized test. What consequences are there for parents? For students? For teachers? For schools?

    So far, the remedies being proposed to address the achievement gap generally avoid suggesting that parents and students bear a responsibility.

    That’s a recipe for disaster.

  18. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/19/2010 - 06:39 am.

    I think legislators should keep in mind the desire of Pawlenty and other anti-union types to weaken, and if possible destroy, both unions of every kind and the public schools.

  19. Submitted by John Olson on 03/19/2010 - 07:26 am.

    Greg, you stated the following:

    “…but what if the state decided that good engineers were too hard to get (or too expensive) and decided that the average auto mechanic could take a five-week course and join you as an engineer. This is the equivalent of what we’re talking about for teachers.”

    No, it is not.

    I don’t agree with Mr. Swift on many things, but this is one instance where he is correct.

    Why does the “state” have to decide for a business that good engineers are too hard to get or too expensive? Chances are that the management of Tom’s engineering firm knows this already and knew it well before a labor market analyst in St. Paul did. Moreover, they know their customer base and trends in their market niche, so if they are going to hire a person, management knows what they are looking for.

    So what is the response from Tom’s firm if a position becomes available? They interview candidates and ensure they know what they are getting and that the person is a proper “fit” for their business, extend an offer (assuming everything else is in order), and negotiate a salary and benefits as appropriate. Maybe the ideal candidate doesn’t have a master’s degree or even a bachelor’s. Maybe it’s a person with an associate degree who is very, very good at their trade and has other attributes that make him or her the best candidate for their position.

    School districts have that same fundamental choice: they can interview candidates with varying levels of experience, degrees, etc. and make a decision to make an offer or pass.

    Tenured teachers often have “bumping rights” based on seniority. Schools that these tenured teachers try to avoid like the plague are the same places that maybe–just maybe–a young “Teach For America” teacher may fit in very well.

    Part of the reason that unions in general are in decline is that they tend to have an unwillingness to even discuss change, even though the world around them is. This is a prime example.

  20. Submitted by chris hatch on 03/19/2010 - 09:41 am.

    “The purpose of tenure is not to guarantee a lifetime job, it’s to protect teachers from intimidation and loss of their position for reasons that have nothing to do with their classroom preparation or performance”

    I don’t buy this argument at all about tenure. If this was the case, then there could be a need for this same protection in practically any field of work.

    Things are broken in our education system and like our health care system change is needed-not just money thrown at the problems. Now I do think we need to consider additional funds for schools that are having trouble but we also need to look at the entire system and find ways to improve and innovate.

    From the outside the actions of teacher unions often feel the same as those of business interests when it comes to health care; protecting the status quo because it works for them.

  21. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/19/2010 - 09:53 am.

    Ray makes some good points.

    I usually focus on the role the teachers union plays in our public school crisis. That’s because I firmly believe it is crucial to remove their influence; the Tom Doohers of this country are the low hanging fruit on the road to the public system’s redemption.

    But I’m not unaware of the fact that irresponsible parents actually have a bigger part in this tragedy.

    Socio-economic status is actually only the outward appearance, the outcome if you will, of responsible families.

    People that are successful want their kids to be successful and are willing to put in the work to help them. Low class families, not all, but many, are low class as a result of the parent’s academic failure. They’ve failed and they have no model of success from which to draw on for their own kids.

    Oddly enough (not really), you’ll also find that most successful kids have a mom and a dad to go home to after school.

    Maybe it would help if we, as a society stopped making excuses for people behave in ways that perpetuate failure and misery? Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate “you’re OK, I’m OK”? Maybe, God forbid, Dan Quayle had a point after all!

    There’s not a whole lot a teacher can do about any of that, but there are teachers that somehow manage to draw out achievement in spite of it.

    These are the professionals that are being cheated by the lowest common denominators among their colleagues; the slackers; the incompetents; the union supporters.

    When skilled professional teachers decide to throw off the Carharts of their blue collar trade labor union they will achieve the right to command salaries that are commensurate with their skills. The cream will float to the top and the dregs will be shown the door.

  22. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/19/2010 - 12:38 pm.

    Thank you Mr. Schoch for getting to the heart of the matter.

  23. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 03/19/2010 - 02:26 pm.

    I am all for alternative licensure. I think that it opens opportunities for school districts to hire teachers with different career and life experiences. It should not be used to hire teachers for less money as a cost savings strategy.

    Education MN is losing the public relations battle, no doubt about that. We sure never hear any ideas from Education MN about how they could do their jobs better except for lower class sizes. We all know that this is not likely to happen ANY time soon. We also hear that teacher performance cannot be measured. We all that this is BS.

  24. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/19/2010 - 09:52 pm.

    @ Chris Hatch:

    ” ‘The purpose of tenure is not to guarantee a lifetime job, it’s to protect teachers from intimidation and loss of their position for reasons that have nothing to do with their classroom preparation or performance’ ”

    “I don’t buy this argument at all about tenure. If this was the case, then there could be a need for this same protection in practically any field of work.”

    Chris may not “buy” the argument, but I speak from personal experience in another state, where a right-wing, religious fundamentalist school board member harassed me for an entire school year, including letters to me personally and conversations with administrators at my school, because I didn’t share her religious beliefs. I didn’t proselytize in opposition to them in class, but as a history teacher, I did spend a bit of time in my Western Civilization classes talking about Catholic theology. Not being a Catholic, she was convinced I didn’t approach her church’s theology with the proper reverence in the class where her son was my student. It’s difficult to make the Reformation make sense to high school kids if they don’t know what’s being “reformed.” If I’d been a new, non-tenured teacher, I’d have been fired rather quickly. Fortunately, I’d been at that high school longer than she’d lived in the school district, and had the state’s tenure law to protect me.

    Yes, it’s too difficult to get rid of teachers who don’t prepare, have no rapport with kids, have no plan, and so on, but removing tenure throws the baby out with the bath water. As I said in my first response, I don’t know how the tenure statute works in Minnesota, or what the criteria are for being granted tenure, but in other states, there’s a “probationary” period during which there’s plenty of time for those who claim to be the responsible parties to decide whether or not “teacher ‘x’ ” has the necessary academic and personal skills to be successful in the classroom.

    As for Chris’s second assertion, a fair case might be made that, while business owners would logically argue that it’s impractical, at best, tenure-like protections might well be needed in many lines of work that currently lack them.

    Minnesota is an “employ-at-will” state, which means that, in a great many occupations, Chris can be fired for no reason at all. If the Office Manager or VP or CEO is in a bad mood and Chris happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or they don’t like the color of his tie, Chris can be instantly unemployed, without explanation. This happened to a close relative, whose performance review a few weeks prior to his layoff was glowing, but who was called in to a supervisor’s office at 11 AM with no prior warning, and told to have his desk cleared out by 4 PM. No reason was given, and his questions about “Why?” went unanswered. They remain unanswered.

    Philosophically, I’m open to alternative licensing, too, but the devil is in the details, and I don’t trust the people who are most enthused about the alternatives I’m seeing most often. Bill Coleman expresses a vain hope by suggesting that “It should not be used to hire teachers for less money as a cost savings strategy.” My hunch is that that is, in large measure, why it’s being proposed in the first place, and once it’s in place, school districts will use it precisely as Bill hopes they will not.

    Why? Because personnel costs are the single largest driving force in school district operating budgets, just as they are in many businesses. School board members stay up late at night trying to think of ways to keep personnel costs as low as they can.

    My artist son has frequently said, “Everybody wants access to art, but no one wants to pay for it.” Much the same could be said of education. Teaching is an interpersonal activity. Business methods can be employed to buy paper or school district pickup trucks, but my connection to your child cannot be made “efficient” in the usual business sense if you want it to work, any more than your connection to your family members can be made “efficient.” Time is the most expensive commodity of all, and time is what it takes for a good teacher to both make a connection to a particular child, but also to communicate effectively the concept at hand. Parents are, after all, “first teachers,” and in many cases, that’s where the whole process has broken down – long before that child gets to school at all.

  25. Submitted by Gary Clements on 03/20/2010 - 12:28 am.

    Thanks for your insightful comments, Ray Schoch… the rest of you should go back and read what he has to say… very balanced, and from the experience of working IN a school.
    As for the article, a huge missing piece for me is the content of this bill that is being so thoroughly discussed by you all.. Do you know that content? Exactly WHAT will be the “relaxed alternative” requirements for a teaching license under that bill? The article has lots of words, but skips the primary content we need to know in order to discuss it intelligently.

  26. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 03/20/2010 - 08:23 am.

    Great discussion here.

    In the end, when you hear things like: “Mr. (or Mrs., or Ms. or Miss) X is a great teacher!” consistently, then you know you have a winner.

    How did they get to be a great teacher? There was an interesting discussion of this in the NYT a few weeks ago.

    Now the traditional method of teacher preparation has a lot to be said for it. Except of course when things happen like the recent attempt at cultural indoctrination at the U.

    But remember that to teach at a college or university there are absolutely no requirements for licensure. And yes there are some pretty crummy professors, but there are also some outstanding teachers.

    How can this be?

    So an alternative method of licensure that includes some classroom training and a year of supervised teaching does not seem like the end of the world for the teaching profession. In fact some of us who are not into indoctrination in schools of education might get hooked.

    And I am fundamentally a union guy and the grandson of an immigrant Irish plumber.

    But the truly good teachers should welcome additions to their ranks.

  27. Submitted by scott gibson on 03/20/2010 - 10:41 am.

    I find it interesting that these calls for this type of reform come from legislators in places such as Minnetonka and supporters are from places like Eden Prairie. And the biggest critic of all these unions on this blog is an engineer. The top end kicking the bottom end. I grew up on a MN reservation. I have taught math for 30+ years in a rural area in MN that none of these people would probably choose to live in. The teachers and students here work hard every day to accomplish great things. I am busting my butt to prepare my students for the upcoming MCA II test in April. Many of my charges will probably fail this test due to their own indifference, in spite of my best efforts. That can be the reality. I don’t control their lives or their world outlook. It IS contradictory to ask for higher standards for teachers at the same time you’re asking to make it easier to become a teacher and to fire a teacher. Many of our ‘teaching colleges’ are graduating few new teachers in fields like mine because there are fewer and fewer reasons to pursue teaching as a career. Seems that all you get is abuse from a noisy public. Of course those in the privileged parts of the state assume we can all choose to live somewhere better (or to be born somewhere better or to have two caring parents, etc).

  28. Submitted by Howard Miller on 03/20/2010 - 01:57 pm.

    Another solution – especially for teachers for math and science, and teachers working with at-risk student populations lacking resources needed for educational success – would be to fund schools so that they can compete with private sector opportunities in medicine, business, law and other professions in the compensation offered.

    If a CEO should be paid the recent market price for her/his services, if the Brett Favres of the world can earn 12 million per year because of their excellence in their profession, if a top tech engineer can pull down a couple hundred big ones per year …… why isn’t that true for education as well?

    how will lowering the standards for entry to teaching ensure that the best and the brightest teach our at-risk students, our students in needed math and science skills?

    It’s about the money everywhere else in the economy. It may be time to recognize that in education too

  29. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/22/2010 - 07:18 am.

    It’s the Gibson Schoch column from the perspective of this inner city school teacher. It makes no sense to lower teacher standards. and the probationary period does filter. Teach for America statistics are not all that could to be accepted as a standard are they. As it has been brought up what would motivate someone to pick teaching as a lifetime career in this climate ?

  30. Submitted by Joanna O'Connell on 03/27/2010 - 06:04 pm.

    I wholeheartedly agree with commenters Schoch and Gibson. I’d add that one thing that would have made it possible for someone like me to make a transition from my current profession to K-12 teaching, would be to make the licensure process itself less rigid, not less rigorous. It would not entail lowering standards at all. But currently, if you cannot volunteer 100 hours before applying, and then be a full-time day student for 18 months, you cannot get your teaching degree from the U of MN. This effectively puts a a career change out of reach for many who would like to go back to school for a licensure, but still have to support a family with their current jobs.

Leave a Reply