Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action
By Daniel Sellers, Executive Director, EdAllies
This past October, I was honored to stand alongside my EdAllies teammates and our partners at Educators for Excellence-Minnesota to accept the PIE Network Eddie! for Best Kept Secret in recognition of our “win” on teacher licensure. Last summer, after the better half of a decade of collective advocacy, our governor finally signed into law a bill to completely overhaul Minnesota’s broken, byzantine teacher licensure system, which has needlessly kept quality educators out of Minnesota classrooms. I call this a “win,” in quotation marks, not to downplay the significance of this progress, but to emphasize just how much work still lies ahead. Did we help pass the legislation we wanted? Yes. But can school leaders hire the very best teachers for their students? Not yet.
The truth is that what can feel like a big win to advocates is often just a small bump in the road for those protecting the status quo.
Without ongoing pressure and engagement from advocates, new laws can get derailed in rulemaking or implementation, get repealed or gutted during future legislative sessions, or have sand thrown in the gears in a myriad of other ways. That’s why, increasingly, we’re putting as much energy into implementing policy as passing it—if not more. Even after our policy “win,” below is just some of the work that remains before we achieve our true win: getting great teachers, regardless of if they come from out-of-state or nontraditional pathways, in front of the Minnesota students that need them.
Monitor & Engage in Rulemaking
Legislation can only have its intended impact if it’s implemented well. And, implementation often starts with the creation of rules. For Minnesota’s new licensure law, the rulemaking process has already had some interesting wrinkles. Most notably, the agency that once oversaw the state’s teacher licensure rules, the dysfunctional Board of Teaching, was abolished on Dec. 31, 2017, as part of the licensure reform. However, the Board of Teaching started drafting rules before it disbanded, in the hopes that the rulemaking body that’s taking over—the newly created and seated Professional Educator Licensure and Standards Board (PELSB)—would pick up where they left off.
Given the importance of these rules, we’ve been closely monitoring this hand-off to make sure that the old Board did, and now the new Board will, properly follow the state’s rulemaking process. Especially in light of the Board of Teaching’s dysfunctional history, we’re hoping that PELSB will start off on the right foot by closely adhering to state law, an area where its predecessor struggled. And, if not, we must be prepared to step in and point out where they’re dropping the ball—which includes taking further legal action, if necessary.
Beyond monitoring the rulemaking process itself, we’re also engaged in the substance of the rules. As advocates, our role is to organize aspiring Minnesota teachers, local school leaders, community members, partners, and fellow advocates to draft official comments on the rules, testify at administrative hearings, and speak out about the proposed rules to ensure they fulfill the intent of the law.
Educate Partners & Educators
Of course, to organize and mobilize stakeholders and partners, we must also keep them informed. To do this, we’ve been sending regular updates, on everything from the release of draft rules to opportunities to attend interviews for the PELSB Executive Director search. We’ve also shared our candid thoughts on draft rules, so that partners and advocates know where we stand as they draft their own comments for submission or testimony at hearings.
Additionally, we’ve done outreach directly to schools and districts so that they understand how the new law will benefit them, if implemented well. For example, later this month, we plan to release a paper detailing exactly how the licensure overhaul—and other related state investments and policy changes—will impact school and district leaders, as well as teacher candidates themselves. We won’t see the full impact of recent law changes unless those changes are understood and used by educators on the ground.
Gear Up for Session
Finally, since the 2017 licensure overhaul was opposed by many defenders of the status quo, we anticipate attempts to tweak or even repeal it during the 2018 legislative session and beyond. To prepare for this, we’ll be keeping teachers, school leaders, and partners engaged, so that they’re ready to defend the new law if need be. We’re also reaching out to teachers and administrators who will benefit under the new system, so that they’re prepared to share their stories and support of the new law.
Implementation can be grueling, thankless work: Once a bill passes, staff fatigue can set in, partners and funders can lose steam, and even stakeholders themselves can lose their sense of urgency. But if the end goal is truly changing the status quo—and ultimately improving opportunities and outcomes for students—it is absolutely essential.
The ultimate win will only come when the law is applied as intended.
As such, it’s the job of advocates to make sure that happens. In our case, we’ll call teacher licensure a win, without quotation marks, when schools and districts can hire the very best teachers for their students.