Opinion: Fast-track, alternative teaching licensure should be explored closely before adoption

The rush in the Minnesota Legislature to make it easier for private sector subject experts to teach in Minnesota schools begs the question: What’s the problem?

Both the Minnesota Senate and Minnesota House of Representatives have passed bills for fast-track alternative paths to getting a teaching license in Minnesota. Proponents say having experts with “real life” experiences should be able to get a teaching license in a shorter time period to improve education of students in Minnesota.

Gov. Mark Dayton has shown some support for a measure with bipartisan support, but has not said he will sign it.

The 55,727 teachers in Minnesota who have invested time and money to get a four-year teaching degree and have passed a test to get a license are understandably concerned about their futures, should this measure become law.

Education Minnesota, the teachers union, is wary and believes anyone from the private ranks who wants to get a teaching license through a fast-track alternative route ought to have a degree in the subject they want to teach.

The problem isn’t that Minnesota needs better teachers in all grades and subjects. The problem is not enough

Minnesota high school graduates with an interest in science and mathematics are becoming teachers. The answer is simple. They can make more money as scientists and mathematicians in the private sector than they can teaching in the public school system.

Until a way can be found to offer math and science graduates better wages, they are not going into the teaching profession.

High school principals can’t offer a starting math and science teacher more money because the offer is determined by the single salary schedule which determines teacher pay and starting salaries. Teachers advance up the schedule based on years they’ve taught and additional college credits they’ve obtained.

The average starting pay for a licensed teacher with a four-year degree is: $31,532, while the average salary for a Minnesota teacher is $48,489.

The research shows how difficult it is to fill critical teaching positions. A survey of school superintendents taken by the Department of Education shows that the hardest positions to fill in order are: teachers of chemistry, physics, mathematics, Special Education (Emotional Behavior Disorder) earth and space science, Special Education (learning disabilities) English as a Second Language, sixth- and eighth-grade science, and Special Education (developmentally disabled.)

Evidence shows why there is a shortage. In the year 2008, only 14 physics graduates became teachers, 205 in chemistry, 1,724 in mathematics.

There is no shortage of elementary, middle school and high school social studies, physical education and English teachers. In fact there is a surplus in those areas.

Instead of shaking up the licensing of teachers in all high school subjects, the Legislature should target the law to encourage chemists, physicists and mathematicians in the private sector to use alternative, fast-track licensure pathways to enable them to teach in Minnesota schools. — Don Heinzman, ECM Publishers

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