An education reform silver lining

The University of Minnesota and Teach for America (TFA) announced this week the formation of an intriguing partnership to create an alternative licensing program for TFA members. The program will be the first to utilize the state's alternative teacher licensure law that passed in 2011, intended to provide mid-career professionals and others an easier route to become classroom teachers.

According to the U of M's summary of the TFA partnership: "Annually, a minimum of 40 TFA corps members will participate in eight weeks of localized training through the University instead of participating in one of TFA's national five-week summer institutes. Training will include rigorous, initial preparation coursework and ongoing credit-based coursework and learning experiences during corps members' two-year commitment to TFA." (Read the full agreement.)

While teachers' unions and others in the entrenched public education establishment have demonized Teach for America, there is a growing body of research that finds that TFA teachers, who undergo an academically rigorous training program, are more effective than their traditional public school counterparts. A major new study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences found that the impact of having a TFA teacher, compared to a traditional public school teacher, "is equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide".

TFA and similar programs have played an important role in attracting effective schoolteachers to struggling schools. Considering the fact that our state's persistent and shameful achievement gap continues to be among the worst in the nation, this partnership is especially welcome news.

The U of M program is scheduled to begin next summer, though it first must receive  approval by the governor-appointed Board of Teaching (BOT). Given BOT's history of antagonism toward TFA, and Governor Dayton's veto of a modest $1.5 million appropriation in the higher education bill for TFA, it would hardly be surprising if the state once again becomes an impediment to reform.

Nonetheless, at a time when liberal policymakers are ditching graduation standards, delaying teacher evaluations, and dismantling any semblance of accountability in public schools, it is encouraging to see that innovative education reform is still possible in Minnesota.

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