Judge blasts state for stopping program intended to reduce achievement gap

In a strongly worded opinion, a Minnesota judge blasted the state’s Board of Teaching for suddenly stopping a program that allowed experienced teachers, usually from out of state, to get licenses through an alternative channel called “licensure by portfolio.”

In the order, issued New Year’s Eve, the judge ordered the board to reinstate the program and resume processing applications, and to create rules and procedures for processing applications.

The order is the result of a lawsuit filed by twenty teachers, with specialized experience, who failed to have their applications processed through the licensure by portfolio program, which granted licenses based on experiences rather than traditional courses and training.

The program, started in 2004, was an attempt to reduce the achievement gap in Minnesota between white students and minorities. Many of the teachers hired through the program had specialized experience, including, for example, one teacher with more than three decades of experience in special education. The program became law in 2008, and between 2004 and 2011, 531 teachers got licenses this way.  But in 2012, it stopped.
“Minnesota is regrettable, and it's deplorable where it stands right in the educational achievement gaps. We find gaps in every metric measuring students of color versus students, white students. It's truly tragic where those numbers lie. License via portfolio was created as a means to close that gap,” said attorney Rhyddid Watkins, an attorney at Faegre Baker Daniels, who took on the case pro bono.

“We're not asking for lower standards or diminished standards of any kind. All these teachers want was the right to apply for a Minnesota license. That's it,” he said.

In the ruling, Judge Shawn Bartsch called the board’s arguments defending their decision to stop processing applications through the program “at best, ignoring the law, and at worse, disingenuous” and “absurd.”

The judge scheduled a hearing for January 29th to make sure the board complied with the order.

The teachers are being represented pro bono by Rhyddid Watkins of Faegre Baker Daniels, and Nathan Sellers of Fabyanske, Westra, Hart & Thomson.

The Minnesota Board of Teaching released this statement:

"The Board of Teaching is in receipt of the order from Ramsey County and is reviewing the details of the judge’s findings with our legal representation.  As this type of application is  implemented collectively by the Minnesota Department of Education with support from the  Board, we will continue to collaborate to reinstate licensure via portfolio as an alternative means of demonstrating one’s qualifications for licensure. The Board intends to fully comply with the judge’s order and will report the progress of both agencies in the days ahead. 

Current information regarding the portfolio application process can be found on the licensing portion of the MDE website.”