By Vernae Hasbargen
During the two years Republicans controlled the legislature, business groups pushed hard to raise the skill level of teachers by instituting tests called the “Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations” (MTLE).
Starting in 2010, candidates seeking licensure in Minnesota must pass the MTLE math, reading, and writing tests, a pedagogy test consisting of two subtests, and a test on the content knowledge related to a specific licensure field. Even teachers prepared outside of Minnesota and with previous teaching experience must take the MTLE tests.
The MTLE couldn’t have come at a worse time because the pool of qualified teachers is shrinking and the need for teachers of color has never been greater.
Last session the Legislature spent a great deal of time revisiting the MTLE and in the end settled for a first step – – allowing candidates who have not passed to become teachers for one year, with an extension for up to three years. They also delegated the responsibility of coming up with a solution to a task force who will report back during the 2014 session.
Glaring Problems with MTLE
Opponents charge there is no correlation between passing a basic skills tests and effectiveness in the classroom. As one administrator put it, “We want teachers who know how to teach, not college math.”
Initially the Board of Teaching set the math cut score a whole standard deviation higher than the testing company recommended which, according to the former director of the Board, meant 72 percent of the American public would not be able to pass the math test. Many argue future elementary teachers don’t need to know college calculus.
But the MTLE has another problem. It is a timed test, so those whose primary language is not English can not reformulate the questions in their own language within the given time limit.
The most significant disadvantage for all teacher candidates is the cost of repeated retaking of MTLE, which on top of student loans, further shrinks the teacher supply.
Rural Districts Feel the Pinch Most
MREA completed a series of 11 area meetings and in each of them heard administrators and board members concerned about attracting teachers to their districts. For many along the borders, the MTLE drives candidates to neighboring states rather than take the test in Minnesota.
Even in areas with a past surplus of candidates like elementary education, the pool has dried up and in many areas like science and special education, it is nonexistent. Increasingly districts are turning to community experts or as one MREA superintendent put it, “In some areas it’s no longer a question of quality, but a warm body.”
Need for Teachers
Recently the chair of the Higher Education Committee, Senator Terri Bonoff, completed a listening tour of Minnesota’s colleges and found the average college graduate has $30,000 in student loans, the third highest in the nation.
Bonhoff wants to offer student loan debt forgiveness in exchange for public service after graduation. When asked by MREA if this public service could include teaching in small communities or remote areas of the state she replied, “We offer loan forgiveness to Dr’s in hard to serve areas. Why not teachers?”
MREA will address these issues in its platform with specific proposals to Balance Teacher Quality and Teacher Availability. The platform will be adopted by MREA members at the Annual Conference Nov 17-19. Register today to participate in the conversation!