Licensure changes ask teachers to make students ‘agents of social change’

Catrin Wigfall, policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment, criticized the new standards for being "political and ideological in nature, not academic."

Gov. Tim Walz greets students on the first day of school at University Avenue Elementary in September 2021. (Office of Gov. Tim Walz/Flickr)

The Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB), whose members are appointed by the governor, is revising its “standards of effective practice” for teacher licensure that will apply to all new teachers when adopted.

According to the Center of the American Experiment, the changes will impact teacher licensure programs and “require aspiring educators to ‘demonstrate’ ideologically driven content in their coursework to obtain their teaching license.” This goes for educators who end up teaching at private schools, too.

A new proposed standard is titled “Racial consciousness and reflection,” and it includes substandards describing what a teacher should “understand” about critical race theory (CRT), discrimination, white supremacy, and much more.

“The teacher understands that knowledge creation, ways of knowing, and teaching are social and cultural practices shaped by race and ethnicity, often resulting in racially disparate advantages and disadvantages,” according to a document describing the proposed standards.

“The teacher understands how ethno-centrism, eurocentrism, deficit-based teaching, and white supremacy undermine pedagogical equity,” the document continues.

In another section on “planning for instruction,” the draft standards say a teacher should “create opportunities for students to learn about power, privilege, intersectionality, and systemic oppression in the context of various communities and empower learners to be agents of social change to promote equity.”

The “learning environments” standard states that teachers should “foster an environment that ensures student identities,” including “gender identity” and “sexual orientation,” are “historically and socially contextualized, affirmed, and incorporated into a learning environment where students are empowered to learn and contribute as their whole selves.”

“The teacher understands and supports students as they recognize and process dehumanizing biases, discrimination, prejudices, and structural inequities,” says another revision to the standards.

Revisions to the “assessment” standard state that teachers should understand “bias in assessment,” evaluate their exams for “bias,” and “design and modify assessments that minimize sources of bias.”

The “professional responsibilities” standard calls on educators to assess “their biases, perceptions, and academic training,” and examine how these may affect “their teaching practice and perpetuate oppressive systems.” Licensed teachers should also be able to “utilize tools” to “mitigate their own behavior to disrupt oppressive systems.”

Gov. Tim Walz visits Jefferson Elementary School in September 2021. (Office of Gov. Tim Walz/Flickr)

In a Wednesday morning rulemaking hearing on the standards, various speakers gave arguments in favor or against the proposed standards.

Catrin Wigfall, policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment, criticized the new standards for being “political and ideological in nature, not academic.”

“The language used would require teachers to demonstrate a specific worldview in order to be licensed that really leaves no room for a shared academic culture of excellence, or one in which students are viewed and treated as the unique and individual learners that they are,” Wigfall said.

“The proposed [standards] instead insist that teachers prioritize group identities with their students, encouraging very concerning generalizations of cultures and ethnic groups. This risks students viewing themselves and their peers through a narrow and limiting perspective,” she added.

Elsa Richardson, a K-5 English-language development teacher, said she serves “diverse families” and was critical of some of the language in the new standards.

“I’ll be pulling some language straight from the proposed changes because I feel the need to challenge the board’s beliefs and assumptions about diverse students, their families, and communities,” she said. “I’m not sure which diverse families were consulted or if any multilingual families were considered because I can assure you the families I work with would not appreciate the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation in the language instruction I provide.”

“Many of the families I work with have a very traditional view on gender and sexuality and I cannot in good faith undermine my multilingual learners’ families’ cultural beliefs because the state has decided what’s in the best interest for everyone,” she added.

On the other hand, Kate Lynn Snyder of the Education Minnesota teachers union praised the proposed standards for better fulfilling the state’s “moral and constitutional responsibility to provide public education to all students.”

“In order to do so, students must see their identities affirmed in their classrooms,” Snyder continued. “This draft was developed after teachers … asked for standards that would push them towards [an] understanding of all students, how to work with all students, and a deeper reflection of how their own biases may impact their students.”

Another teacher spoke in support of the new standards because they “require educators to provide a learning environment that is anti-bias and anti-racist.”

An administrative law judge will issue an order on the proposed rule changes 30 days after the conclusion of a post-hearing comment period, which closes Sept. 13. A PELSB representative said during the hearing that the standards have not been revised for about 20 years.

 

Evan Stambaugh

Evan Stambaugh is a freelance writer who had previously been a sports blogger. He has a BA in theology and an MA in philosophy.