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Teach for America partnership with University Minnesota outlined

MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota and Teach for America pitched the state's first nontraditional teacher preparation program Friday. The university and the nonprofit that places recent, high-achieving college graduates in low-income class...

MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota and Teach for America pitched the state's first nontraditional teacher preparation program Friday.

The university and the nonprofit that places recent, high-achieving college graduates in low-income classrooms announced they were teaming up in the fall. They now are seeking Board of Teaching approval for the program, noting it could steer more diverse teachers into local schools. Almost 40 percent of the 42 Teach for America recruits for the Twin Cities next fall are people of color.

The partnership has been the subject of intense debate and criticism. Graduate students, some faculty and Minneapolis school district teachers argued a Teach for America program at the university would cheapen traditional teacher prep programs and place unprepared educators in Twin Cities schools.

The university and Teach for America countered that the program they designed under the state's 2011 alternative licensure law would beef up training and mentoring for recruits.

At Friday's presentation, University of Minnesota Associate Education Dean Deborah Dillon unveiled a partnership with the federally funded Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis. In Achievement Zone summer school classes, Teach for America recruits will get more classroom experience during their initial training.


Dillon spoke of extensive coursework Teach for America members will take and ongoing mentoring from both campus faculty and Teach for America staff.

"These high-quality curriculums and experiences have undergone rigorous review at the University of Minnesota," Dillon said.

Board of Teaching members pressed Dillon and Crystal Brakke, executive director of Teach for America in the Twin Cities, on the hours of training recruits will receive and the support they'll get once placed in schools. The board is slated to vote on approval later this spring.

The joint program is poised to expand Teach for America's presence in Minnesota. The nonprofit has placed about 80 teachers in the Minneapolis districts and area charter schools since 2009.

The university stressed its program will be more rigorous than typical Teach for America training efforts. A Minneapolis summer training stint will take eight weeks instead of the standard five weeks.

Recruits will spend six weeks teaching two hours a day in summer programs at the Northside Achievement Zone, which supports and supplements the work of public schools. That would triple the time recruits normally spend teaching before the start of the school year.

Meanwhile, staff from the university's College of Education and Human Development will provide preparation for the recruits. Teach for America teachers will take coursework developed by the university during the two years of their commitment to the program.

The university will be able to recommend program participants for a regular full-time teaching license at the end of the two years. The university says a central goal is to keep these teachers in the classroom beyond the standard two-year Teach for America stint.


At the university, graduate students started a petition last summer urging university leaders not to team up with Teach for America. Some educators in Minneapolis spoke up against the planned joint program as well, saying they would urge colleagues to stop mentoring all University of Minnesota student-teachers.

Critics argued that low-income students especially need teachers with extensive preparation and a long-term commitment to the profession - not novices who sign up for two years and learn on the job.

As Teach for America seeks to grow its presence in the state, it's met with other pushback, as well. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed money the Legislature had earmarked to expand the program last year. And the Board of Teaching denied a group teacher license waiver to recruits for the first time since 2009. It later approved individual license waivers.

Last month, students hosted a "Teach for America Truth Tour" at the University of Minnesota and Macalester College, part of a national series of campus events highly critical of the organization. Leaders from the St. Paul teachers union and the American Federation of Teachers took part.

Paul Mueller, vice president of statewide teachers union Education Minnesota, praised the university for upgrading Teach for America training and mentoring. He said the union still has concerns about the cost of the new program and its impact on traditional teacher preparation.

The university said the cost of attending the Teach for America program will be "slightly lower" compared to that of traditional teacher prep programs.

At Friday's Board of Teaching meeting, several speakers voiced support for the university and Teach for America partnership. Former Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak called the partnership "groundbreaking work that will help all of our kids."

Rybak, now head of the education coalition Generation Next, and others hailed the program as a way to attract more teachers of color to local classrooms - a push some advocates believe could help narrow the state's gaping achievement gap.


In the metro area, 94 percent of district teachers and 89 percent of charter educators are white. Kids of color make up 36 percent of public school enrollment.

Maggie Sullivan, the Minneapolis district's human resource director, said the program will allow the district to bring in more diverse teachers eager to serve low-income students. The district is gearing up to hire more than 300 educators this year, she said, and enlisting more minority teachers is a key goal.

"We really struggle to find bilingual elementary teachers and elementary teachers of color," Sullivan said.

Some Board of Teaching members said they were pleased to see a locally based and lengthier summer training program. Still, they voiced some lingering skepticism. Loy Woelber said he worries about day-to-day mentoring and support for program participants, who take most coursework while already teaching full time.

Anne Krafthefer noted that program participants would have to cover major academic ground while teaching full time to meet state licensing requirements.

"It's mind-boggling what needs to be accomplished in those two years," she said. "Our standards are incredibly high, and the number of benchmarks is quite astounding."

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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