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The impact of the alternative teaching license law on District 518

WORTHINGTON -- Upon signing the alternative teacher licensure bill into law on Tuesday, Gov. Dayton ignited an already concerned dialogue among educators across the state of Minnesota.

The new law will be in effect for the 2011-2012 school year and will enable individuals who have a bachelor's degree to obtain certification to teach without being required to earn certification from a college, campus-based teacher education program.  Ultimately, the goal is to boost student achievement, attract a more diverse group of teachers to the classroom and decrease the student achievement gap.

Alternative teaching licensure programs are not new to the realm of education, as an estimated 500,000 teachers have obtained licenses through alternative routes since the 1980s (according to statistics from the National Center for Alternative Certification). Currently, approximately one-third of new teachers being hired throughout the U.S. have an alternatively based certification.

Despite these statistics, there is still concern among Minnesotan educators. District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard believes it is still too soon to evaluate the law's effectiveness and the impact it will have on the district.

"The actual impact of this piece of legislation will probably increase the number of positions we may have open," he said. "I don't know if it will change what we're doing -- it's really too early to try to figure out what this means until we have a better definition of what an alternative license means."

One of the driving factors of the alternative licensure law was to help eliminate the future teacher shortage; a shortage District 518 has yet to experience. Although the number of applicants received may not always be high, the district still manages to attract educators of high caliber, according to Landgaard.

"We have not had a difficult time hiring people," he added. "For the past few years we've managed to hire individuals with a more diverse background than we had previously hired."

The fact that neither the state nor District 518 is currently experiencing a shortage in teachers leads some to question the need for alternative licensure. Among those concerned is Rodney Rowe, a fourth-grade teacher at Prairie Elementary and at-large governing board member for Education Minnesota.

"When we don't have a shortage of teachers in this state our concern was, 'Why is this even being discussed as a possibility?'" Rowe said.

Education Minnesota, which represents an estimated 70,000 educators across the state, has expressed concern over the new law and Rowe has conveyed a similar sentiment.

"It's disheartening to see what they've (legislators) chosen to do," he said. "For anyone that is a teacher, it's very demeaning. It kind of degrades what my degree means."

"We don't want to lower the standards and lower the expectiations," said Landgaard of educator's concerns on how alternative licenses will affect those who obtained a teaching license in a traditional manner. "Yet, I will also say that there are very good people out there that are in their respective professions that can make outstanding teachers."

There is also apprehension on how well alternatively licensed teachers will fare in a classroom already struggling to meet state standards.

"Our goal is to see the best trained teachers working with students," Rowe explained "When we're trying to reach high standards we have to have the most highly qualified teachers. And this law opens the door to allow people who do hold a four-year degree, not necessarily in the germane of that they would be teaching, to go in and teach in areas that are already difficult."

Student achievement, especially the widened achievement gap, has long been a concern for officials across the country and District 518 is not exception. While some may cite race as a factor for such a gap, Landgaard believes that may not always be the case.

"With the achievement gap, they say it's based on race, but in some cases the achievement gap is really economically based," he added. "I don't think it is always the correct approach to lump an achievement gap on one specific grouping or sub grouping. There are really other factors that affect the gap."

Regardless of the alternative teaching licensure or not, Landgaard indicates the district has continually strived to bridge the achievement gap.

"What we're trying to do as a district is break down the data to get to the root of some of the issues that seem to be of concern for us."

"Teachers work very hard at trying to close the achievement gap and it's hard for everyone in this profession when legislation has so much control about the next school year," Rowe added.

Despite the changes in education within Minnesota, Rowe believes the state is still one of the forerunners in the nation.

"When you look at all of the regulations and changes within the state, Minnesota still turns out the highest ACT (American College Testing) in the nation. We've had more and more minorities take the test, so how can we say we're really doing something wrong?"