Groves Literacy

Groves Academy: Where the art of teaching meets the science of learning


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Let’s Ease Licensure Restrictions

As Minnesota school principals, we appreciated the recent editorial on efforts to reform licensure for out-of-state teachers (“Streamline rules for teacher licensure,” April 13). Because we know how critical it is to bring more experienced educators into our classrooms, we wanted to chime in and explain how a fair and clear licensure system would benefit not only talented out-of-state teachers, but also our students.

Together, we represent a magnet school focused on the arts and sciences, as well as a literacy-intensive private school for students with learning disabilities and attention disorders. We’re specialized and we’re successful, thanks to the dedicated and gifted educators who work in our schools.

Yet, too often, when we seek to hire out-of-state instructors who have the unique skills and experiences we know work best for our students, we — and the candidates themselves — must jump through dizzying hoops to earn Minnesota licenses, all in the name of “high standards.”

Rather than consider these teachers’ classroom experience and effectiveness — as we do — these standards require that the Board of Teaching review out-of-state teachers college transcripts and course catalogs to determine whether their training was “essentially equivalent” to a Minnesota program.

Rather than welcome an experienced educator, these standards dictate that if a teacher’s license in another state is not exactly the same as its Minnesota equivalent, that teacher can’t gain a full license to teach our students.

For school leaders like us, it’s frustrating when we can’t hire the educators we know would be best for the job, and when we can’t even tell candidates how to navigate Minnesota’s licensure process. For our students, the impact is much bigger. They might miss out on life-changing educators whose teacher-preparation classes from years ago weren’t deemed equivalent to Minnesota courses.

Because when professional, proven educators learn they’ll have to return to school, pay thousands of dollars in tuition and even student teach to become licensed in Minnesota, it’s not surprising that many choose not to come to Minnesota at all. And who can blame them?

Minnesota is facing a growing teacher shortage, with rural and urban schools alike having a tough time attracting and retaining teachers, and with many crucial subject areas lacking specialized instructors. Over the past five years, nearly half of Greater Minnesota regions experienced a net loss of teachers, and statewide, Minnesota school districts report that it will be impossible or very difficult to fill vacancies in math (43 percent of districts), chemistry (48 percent) and special education (70 percent).

Minnesota is also facing a demographic gap: 30 percent of students are of color, compared with just 4 percent of our teachers. Since Minnesota graduates a lower percentage of high school students of color than almost any other state, and research consistently shows that students of color benefit from having teachers who look like them, we must get serious about diversifying the teaching force. Looking beyond our borders to attract diverse teachers is one important part of the solution.

We simply have to recruit out-of-state educators. The Legislature tried to fix our broken licensure system in 2011, passing a law to streamline the process teachers face when moving to Minnesota. But that law has not been successfully implemented; hurdles remain for talented teachers and the schools that need them.

Thankfully, we now have the opportunity to revisit, strengthen and implement that law, as both the Senate and House education omnibus bills include measures to establish fair and transparent pathways to licensure for out-of-state teachers.

Rather than lower standards, our Legislature has an opportunity to raise, clarify and streamline them, honoring the professional experiences of out-of-state educators and addressing the immediate needs of Minnesota schools and students.

We hope that bipartisan cooperation on this common-sense issue continues, empowering school leaders like us to hire the teachers who will lead all Minnesota students to success.

John Alexander is head of school at Groves Academy in St. Louis Park. Lynn DeLisi is principal at Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury, which is managed by the Perpich Center for Arts Education.


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A Review: “We’re Teaching Math All Wrong”

In a commentary titled “We’re Teaching Math All Wrong,” (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/298783051.html) author Susan Engel, a senior lecturer in psychology at Williams College, states that we are approaching the teaching of math incorrectly and that for some students for whom math does not come naturally or easily we should teach them only arithmetic through third grade for 20 minutes a day.  Instead of teaching them math, Engel feels that we should allow these math-averse kids to gravitate towards reading and the kinds of play that involve abstract thinking and problem solving.

Clearly, Engle is thinking outside of the box.  She feels that the time invested in teaching math to hard to reach students isn’t worth it.  Instead, the time spent teaching math could be better spent developing abstract, critical thinking skills through different avenues.

Although not overtly stated, Engle’s approach seems to place the blame of not learning math on the student.  She is excusing the teacher and the curriculum.  According to this line of thinking, if a student isn’t good at something, let’s just ignore it and move to something that he can handle.  I wasn’t good at art in school.  (I still struggle producing creative pieces.)  Does that mean that I should have been excused from art classes so that I could go to gym class where I excelled?  If not for the art classes in which I struggled, I might never have grown to appreciate art as I do today.  Perhaps I appreciate art more as an adult because it was such a struggle for me as a child.

Rather than throwing in the towel with respect to teaching math in the early grades, let’s examine what we are teaching, why we teach what we do, and how we teach the subject matter.  I think we will find that we spend far too much time teaching math algorithms and procedures in the early grades instead of teaching number sense and conceptual mathematical principles.  If students aren’t grounded in number sense and early concepts of geometry, measurement, patterns, collecting and organizing, and classifying and categorizing, it makes absolutely no sense to be teaching them mathematical algorithms and operations.

Let’s not run away from teaching math to students for whom math is difficult.  As adults, let’s examine our approach to the teaching of math and see if we can do better in the way we deliver math instruction.

John Alexander