Acton Institute Powerblog

Equity? New bill could kick minority teachers out of the classroom

N’Jai-An Patters testifies before Minnesota's state Senate. (Photo credit: Screenshot.)

Lawmakers in Minnesota, the crucible of last summer’s deadly riots, have made a concerted effort to increase the number of minorities teaching in the public schools. That goal is on a collision course with a bill that would cut off pathways to becoming a teacher and could throw more minority teachers out of work than the state recruits.

Supporters say the “Increase Teachers of Color Act of 2021” (House File 217) focuses on recruiting and retaining “teachers of color and American Indian teachers (TOCAIT).” The bill, introduced by Minneapolis Democratic State Representative Hodan Hassan, aims to increase the number of minority teachers by 2% each year through 2040 – or 634 over the next five years.

However, the state could lose even more minority teachers and other qualified educators thanks to a bill that would make it harder to earn a teaching license.

The state currently grants four separate levels, or tiers, of teaching licenses: Tier 1 and Tier 2 are temporary licenses that can be renewed a maximum of three times, while Tier 3 and Tier 4 may be renewed indefinitely. Current state law offers 12 ways to obtain a Tier 3 license, which opens the door to a permanent teaching job. Some of these allow subject matter experts who love children to teach without going back to college.

HF 1376 would eliminate 10 of these 12 opportunities. To keep teaching, educators would be forced to enroll in a college teacher preparation course or engage in a lengthy portfolio process – no matter how well they know the material or how well they teach.

No one illustrates the absurdity of HF 1376 better than N’Jai-An Patters. After earning her Ph.D., she felt called to work in a K-12 school environment. She currently teaches Advanced Placement government and politics to twelfth-grade students at Minneapolis’s Hiawatha Collegiate High School – on a Tier 2 license. She hoped to become a permanent teacher through one of the alternative pathways allowed by law: spending “at least three years of experience teaching as the teacher of record in a K-12 classroom.”

But HF 1376 pretends that she lacks the competence to teach without the right slip of paper.

“I have three postsecondary degrees in different social studies disciplines,” Patters, who also testified before the state Senate, wrote in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Ironically, because of my background and experience, I have been on degree-granting committees in the very programs in which this bill would require me to enroll.”

 

The bill’s burden would fall heaviest on those who can’t afford to enroll in college, including minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. “When you consider the demographics of those who hold Tier 1 and Tier 2 licenses, I hope it is evident who will be disproportionately impacted by this change,” said Tonya Allen, the director of mental health and family engagement for Intermediate District 287. Minorities comprise 5.6% of Minnesota’s teachers but 21% of teachers with a temporary license. Of the 3,396 teachers holding a Tier 1 or Tier 2 license, 721 of whom are minorities.

If the state loses 721 minority teachers on Tier 1 and 2 licenses, it could spend tens of millions of dollars and still end up behind, even if it meets its 2% recruitment goal.

But the bill’s greatest offense is that it denies children access to highly qualified, possibly life-transforming teachers simply because they did not get the permission of the requisite committee.

“As a parent … I am more interested in knowing whether my daughter’s teacher can implement best practices than I am in knowing whether she learned those practices in a classroom, at a workshop, through a mentor or with a coach,” Patters wrote. Most parents agree that competence should be the defining criterion for hiring in any other profession – but especially teachers, who shape the minds of our future leaders.

“Administrators, teachers, students and families are not asking for this change,” testified Matt Shaver of EdAllies before a state House hearing. Who is bucking for this “reform”? The education-focused website The 74 explains:

Those changes are being sought by the state’s traditional colleges of education and the Education Minnesota teachers union, which also represents faculty at the teacher training programs, as well as by the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board. In addition to granting licenses, the board oversees teacher training programs, and until recently routinely refused to authorize alternative talent pipelines — such as Teach For America — not associated with a Minnesota college of education.

Education Minnesota demands that anyone who wants to be a teacher pay exorbitant amounts of money to its members (education professors) for the privilege. Ironically, the teachers union – an affiliate of the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the AFL-CIO – agrees that “[i]f teaching becomes an unaffordable profession, it will become even more difficult to attract and retain high-quality educators.” Its solution? More money for union members: “Adequately fund our colleges and universities,” “offer free tuition at Minnesota’s two-year institutions,” and increase “federal loan forgiveness programs.”

All of the long-simmering problems exposed in 2020 intersect in this story: teachers unions placing their members’ interests ahead of students’ needs, never-needed regulations, the rising popularity of socialism and the welfare state, and minorities being denied the full use of their God-given talents. The worst way to begin 2021 is by passing an occupational licensing bill that puts teaching outside the reach of poor adults and a world-class education beyond the grasp of too many children – one law to crush two generations’ dreams.

“What happens to a dream deferred?” asked poet (and Marxist) Langston Hughes. Squandered potential, lost opportunities, and hopelessness make an explosive combination – a fact that Minneapolis should know better than anywhere else.

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.