Federal

Minn. Studies ‘Interdisciplinary’ Teachers’ License

By Joetta L. Sack — March 28, 2008 3 min read
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Just as Minnesota lawmakers add a performance-pay measure for teachers, other officials in the state are studying ways to establish a licensure system for teachers of nontraditional, multiple-subject classes.

The legislature has directed the state Board of Teaching to design an “interdisciplinary” license that would give teachers a wider range of credentials to teach more than one subject. It would most likely benefit teachers in charter schools, alternative schools, and secondary schools where individuals are asked to teach more than one subject at a time, such as both English and social studies.

Lawmakers hope that such a credential would enable more teachers to meet the “highly qualified” requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates that every teacher must be certified in the core subject or subjects they teach by the end of the 2005-06 school year. In general, that means a teacher must have a major in the subject taught or pass a test demonstrating mastery of it.

States have been grappling with that provision since the NCLB measure was signed into law in 2002. Now, many states are contemplating ways for teachers in certain circumstances to deal with the mandate, said Jon Schroeder, the coordinator for Education/Evolving, a St. Paul, Minn.-based policy-research group.

But few have considered a different license, he added. “This is really breaking some new ground in terms of the federal definition of ‘highly qualified,’ ” Mr. Schroeder said. “These are going to be different kinds of skills and competencies than we’ve traditionally thought of when we think of highly qualified teachers.”

Voluntary Compensation Systems

Minnesota’s 11-member Board of Teaching, appointed by the governor, is made up of six classroom teachers, one higher education faculty member, one school administrator, and three members of the public. It will determine what features would be required for the proposed license.

The panel is expected to report its recommendations to the legislature in January. State lawmakers would have to pass separate legislation when they reconvene in March in order for the interdisciplinary license to go into effect, according to Allen Hoffman, the board’s executive director.

Some legislative supporters also believe that such a license could potentially help teachers in rural schools, who often have to double up on subjects.

Mr. Schroeder estimated that hundreds of Minnesota teachers have what he dubs a “community-expertise license,” in which the person is skilled in a subject but has not taken the required courses for a traditional credential. Those teachers will likely apply for the interdisciplinary license if it becomes available next year, he said.

But, Mr. Schroeder added, the need for the proposed credential is growing as the field changes, the teacher provisions of the NCLB law take effect, and districts scramble to find highly qualified teachers for subjects and schools that are difficult to staff.

Meanwhile, district officials can consider whether they want to take part in a new state initiative that allows them to implement performance-pay programs for teachers, beginning this coming school year.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, signed a $12.6 billion K-12 budget this month that sets up a voluntary program called Quality Compensation for Teachers, or QCOMP. The law asks districts to build a system of career advancement for teachers that links professional development and students’ academic achievement to compensation. Peers will evaluate teachers’ skills.

The state teachers’ union warned district officials not to rush into the program for the extra $260 per student it provides participating districts. It’s up to those districts to propose how much they would give teachers who meet the criteria they set.

Education Minnesota, an affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, cautioned that setting up a fair and comprehensive evaluation plan requires extensive planning.

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