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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Judges mostly approve new licensing standards for MN teachers despite conservative opposition

Two administrative law judges in Minnesota have essentially upheld the state’s contentious new requirements for teacher licensure.

For the first time, the eight revised “standards of effective practice” will mandate that those seeking certification as teachers consider their own implicit biases, learn about systems of oppression, and respect pupils’ right to express their own gender and sexual orientation.

After 2001, the standards had not been updated. The state’s K-12 student body has become much more diverse since then, but its teaching staff has remained rather static.

The revised criteria were developed to “ensure future teachers are more equipped to educate racially and ethnically diverse kids, multilingual students, students who have suffered trauma, and students with disabilities,” as stated by the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.

Both the state teachers’ union and the organization representing colleges of education backed the revision, although conservatives were vocal in their opposition.

They would “send an unambiguous signal that only instructors who are ideologically aligned left of the center need apply,” a group of House Republicans said in August.

Administrative Law Judge Jim Mortenson had three months to go through more than 500 comments on the eight standards and 71 subparts after an all-day public hearing on August 25.

About 68 of the 71 parts were deemed “essential and reasonable” in his opinion last month.

On Friday, Chief Administrative Law Judge Jenny Starr mostly agreed with Mortenson’s conclusions, albeit she disagreed with his approval of one subpart and rejection of another.

All three “faulty” parts had the same issue. All the while, they were asking instructors to “identify holes in curriculum and develop improvements to accommodate missing narratives and diverse viewpoints,” as Starr put it.

She concluded that “it is not within the Board’s jurisdiction to remedy gaps in school curriculum” (since it would go beyond the Board’s purview of teacher licensing).

There should be just minimal adjustments needed to fix those areas before they can be resubmitted for Starr’s approval. Another option is for the licensing board to request that the state legislature evaluate the new criteria as is.

Director of education policy Yelena Bailey has said that these changes would be discussed at next board meetings.

With the adoption of these standards, she said in an email, “Minnesota will be at the forefront of culturally responsive teaching techniques and the historical and systemic effect of race and racism on public education.”

Mortenson mostly described the improvements and noted that they fulfilled the legal threshold in his 82-page report. Nonetheless, he spent time responding to conservative criticism of a single, heavily-discussed provision of the guidelines.

Teachers are tasked with creating, as stated in the standard’s “Learning Environments” subheading, “an environment that ensures student identities such as race/ethnicity, national origin, language, sex and gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical/developmental/emotional ability, socioeconomic class, and religious beliefs are historically and socially contextualized, affirmed, and integrated into a learning environment where students are empowered to learn and contribute as their whole.”

To paraphrase what Mortenson stated, many opponents have claimed the new standards would do is “bring identity politics into the classroom.”

It is Mortenson’s hope that students would not be “effectively barred from the classroom and learning” because of their identities, which is why he suggested SEP 2(D). The rule does not mandate the dissemination of any specific ideological or religious stance. Our state constitution guarantees all residents equal rights and protections, and SEP 2(D) upholds and does not conflict with those provisions.

The changes “politicize teacher training requirements, using language that is clearly political and ideological, not academic — from Critical Race Theory and identity politics to gender ideology,” wrote Catrin Wigfall, a policy fellow at the Center for the American Experiment, a conservative think tank, on Monday.

Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, hailed the decision, stating the new requirements would guarantee that “new teachers get the training they need to ensure every kid can learn from a great educator in a safe, inclusive, and productive public school.”

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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