FAIRMONT - Earlier this week, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill that allows alternative pathways to becoming a teacher in Minnesota's public schools.
The new law gives the Board of Teaching, a group separate from the Department of Education, the ability to approve programs with different standards than the traditional teacher licensing requirements.
Under the new law, teaching candidates must have a bachelor's degree, a 3.0 GPA (a "B" average), pass a basic skills test and have 200 hours of student teaching, which equals about 25 days. In addition, many programs allow the student to teach while earning his or her license.
The idea is to give younger adults a quicker path to the classroom, and make the process easier for mid-level professionals in search of a career change.
Traditional teacher licensure requires a bachelor's degree, as well as passing a basic skills and pedagogy tests, and 10 weeks - or 50 days - of student teaching experience.
At Fairmont Area Schools, there is concern about the preparedness of teachers licensed with no training in educational methods, and with fewer hours in the classroom.
"In my sixteen years of service, I have never had a problem finding a qualified, certified teacher," said Fairmont Superintendent Joe Brown. "I have had trouble paying for them, but not finding them."
Brown estimates that 2,000 Minnesota public school teachers will be out of work in coming weeks because of budget cuts.
"There are plenty of good, qualified teachers available," he said. "I don't envision ever hiring a non-certified teacher. I don't have any intention of lowering the standards of the district by hiring a non-certified teacher."
Education Minnesota, the state's teacher's union, fought hard against the law.
Education Minnesota-Fairmont president Bob Millette, a second-grade teacher, said, "As an educator and union leader, I do have a concern regarding the alternative teacher licensure law that was just passed. ... I went to college to learn the strategies needed to become an effective teacher in front of children.
"In my mind, simply creating another, less rigorous, route to becoming a teacher will not produce the high-quality instruction that every child deserves."
Despite the opposition and controversy, alternatively licensed teachers have been teaching in Minnesota for years. Teach for America and CareerTeacher are two programs operating in the state that received a special waiver to license teachers alternatively.
The new licensure requirements do have an advocate in the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, a business advocacy group. In fact, alternative teacher licensure was listed as one of the group's top legislative priorities for 2011.
"Research underscores that second to parents, the quality of a teacher is the biggest predictor of a student's academic success," said Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson. "This bill is a good first step to helping us reach our goal of placing an effective teacher in every classroom."
The Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce did not take a position on the issue.
Millette sees the new law as lowering standards in a specialized field.
"The alternative teaching plan makes it easier for anyone to become a teacher," he said. "Would we want someone to become a doctor, lawyer or any other professional that did not have the many years of training to do the best job they can in surgery, in the court, or wherever?"