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Minnesota Teacher Licensing 'Confusing,' 'Complex,' and 'Broken,' Audit Finds

Minnesota's teacher-licensing system is broken—and should be overhauled, beginning by consolidating the two state agencies that administer it, the state's Office of the Legislative Auditor said in a report released March 4. 

There isn't any easy way to summarize just how convoluted this all gets over the report's 100 pages, which detail the state's "complex, unclear, and confusing" system, to quote from auditor James Nobles' letter. But are a sampling of some of the findings: 

  • The split between the state's board of teaching, which sets licensing requirements, and the state education department, which makes decisions about licensing and issues licenses, blur the lines about duties and accountability, confusing teachers and leading to finger-pointing among agency officials.
  • The state's licensing statutes and the regulations carrying them out don't even use the same terms to describe the same type of licenses.
  • Multiple loopholes and exceptions to the rules, combined with a series of legislative changes over the past five years, have further complicated the issues.
  • When it denies licenses, the state often doesn't provide teacher candidates with enough information about why.

Minnesota's teacher-licensing system came into the national spotlight last year after some 20 teachers from out of state filed a lawsuit saying that the state gave them confusing, contradictory information about how to get a license. 

Among its recommendations, the auditor suggests that one agency—either the board of teaching or the state education department—should oversee all aspects of teacher preparation and licensing. And the legislature should consider totally overhauling the current licensing system in favor of a "tiered" one that establishes a set of minimum qualifications for all teachers, whether prepared in state or out of state, and create graduated licensure levels for teachers who receive additional training.

The report also suggests that some of the legislature's attempts to make licensing easier might have backfired. For instance, it warns that 2015 legislation that was supposed to make it easier to grant licenses to out-of-state teachers made it possible that some viable out-of-state candidates might not have had specific classes on reading instruction or educational technology or enough student teaching. 

In letters in response, representatives of both the board of teaching and the state education department said they agreed with the findings. 

Now we'll have to wait to see what, if anything, changes.

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