Elementary Teacher Preparation: Minnesota

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that its teacher preparation programs provide elementary teachers with a broad liberal arts education, the necessary foundation for teaching to the Common Core Standards.

Nearly meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation: Minnesota results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MN-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-6

Analysis of Minnesota's policies

Minnesota is on the right track in ensuring that its elementary teacher candidates are adequately prepared to teach a broad range of elementary content.

In Minnesota, elementary teachers are required to pass each of the three subtests that comprise the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations (MTLE) elementary education test. The first subtest includes reading and communication arts; the second one includes math and health/fitness and fine arts; and the third subtest includes science and social studies. 

Although the state does not specify any coursework requirements for general education or elementary teacher candidates, it does specify that those in teacher preparation programs must "complete a program of general studies in the liberal arts and sciences equivalent to the requirement for persons enrolled in programs not preparing persons for teacher licensure," and that the "liberal arts curriculum of the institution incorporates multicultural and global perspectives." 

In addition, Minnesota articulates standards that its approved teacher preparation programs must use to frame instruction in elementary content areas, including literature, science and health. However, these standards are too ambiguous and offer little guarantee that elementary teacher candidates will receive instruction in core topics like English literature, world history, or American history and government.

The state also outlines content standards as part of its MTLE content test, which are better than those found in most states. For example, elementary teachers must demonstrate knowledge of "children's and young adolescents' literature representing a range of genres, eras, perspectives, and cultures." Minnesota also requires knowledge of "historical and modern perspectives" in both U.S. and world history.  

Citation

Recommendations for Minnesota

Require a content test that ensures sufficient knowledge in all subjects.
Although Minnesota is on the right track by administering a three-part licensing test, thus making it harder for teachers to pass if they fail some subject areas, the state is encouraged to further strengthen its policy and require separate passing scores for each subject on its multiple-subject test.

Require at least an academic concentration.
An academic concentration, if not a full academic major, would not only enhance Minnesota teachers' content knowledge, but it would also ensure that prospective teachers have taken higher-level academic coursework. Further, it would provide an option for teacher candidates unable to fulfill student teaching or other professional requirements to still earn a degree. 

State response to our analysis

Minnesota recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that prior to 2010, elementary candidates in Minnesota were required to earn a specialty area endorsement in addition to the K-6 license. "Our experience demonstrated that the K-6 plus specialty design presented significant challenges for our colleges and universities that sought to deliver a depth of preparation in areas such as reading and meeting the needs of special education students and English language learners. As such, we eliminated the specialty requirement and significantly increased the rigor and depth of required preparation in reading." 

Research rationale

Numerous research studies have established the strong relationship between teachers' vocabulary (a proxy for being broadly educated) and student achievement. For example: A.J. Wayne and P. Youngs, "Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review," Review of Educational Research 3, No. 1 (2003): 89-122. See also G.J. Whitehurst, "Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development," presented at the 2002 White House Conference on Preparing Teachers; R. Ehrenberg and D. Brewer, "Did Teachers' Verbal Ability and Race Matter in the 1950s? Coleman Revisited," Economics of Education Review 14 (1995), 1-21.

Research also connects individual content knowledge with increased reading comprehension, making the capacity of the teacher to infuse all instruction with content of particular importance for student achievement. See Willingham, D. T., "How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens comprehension, learning—and thinking," American Educator 30(1), (2006).

For the importance of teachers' general academic ability, see R. Ferguson, "Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why Money Matters," Harvard Journal on Legislation 28 (1991), 465-498; R. Greenwald, L. Hedges, and R. Laine, "Does Money Matter? A Meta-Analysis of Studies of the Effects of Differential School Inputs on Students' Outcomes," Educational Researcher 23, no. 3 (1994), 5-14; E. Hanushek, "Teacher Characteristics and Gains in Student Achievement: Estimation Using Micro-Data," American Economic Review 61, no. 2 (1971), 280-288; E. Hanushek, "A More Complete Picture of School Resource Policies," Review of Educational Research 66 (1996), 397-409; H. Levin, Concepts of Economic Efficiency and Educational Production," in Education as an Industry, ed. J. Froomkin, D. Jamison, and R. Radner (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1976); D. Monk and J.R. King, "Subject Area Preparation of Secondary Mathematics and Science Teachers and Student Achievement," Economics of Education Review 12, no. 2 (1994), 125-145; R. Murnane, "Understanding the Sources of Teaching Competence: Choices, Skills, and the Limits of Training," Teachers College Record 84, no. 3 (1983) R. Murnane and B. Phillips, Effective Teachers of Inner City Children: Who They Are and What Are They? (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1978); R. Murnane and B. Phillips, "What Do Effective Teachers of Inner City Children Have in Common?" Social Science Research 10 (1981), 83-100; M. McLaughlin and D. Marsh, "Staff Development and School Change," Teachers College Record 80, no. 1 (1978), 69-94; R. Strauss and E. Sawyer, "Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies," Economics of Education Review 5 (1986), 41; A. A. Summers and B.L. Wolfe, "Which School Resources Help Learning? Efficiency and Equity in Philadelphia Public Schools," Business Review (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, February 1975).

Sandra Stotsky has documented the fact that teacher candidates often make inappropriate or irrelevant coursework choices that nonetheless satisfy state requirements. See S. Stotsky, "Can a State Department of Education Increase Teacher Quality? Lessons Learned in Massachusetts," in Brookings Papers on Education Policy, ed. Diane Ravitch (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004).

On the need for colleges and universities to improve their general education coursework requirements, see The Hollow Core: Failure of the General Education Curriculum (Washington, D.C.: American Council of Trustees and Alumni, 2004). For a subject-specific example of institutions' failure to deliver solid liberal arts preparation see, The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education's Failure to Teach America's History and Institutions (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).

For information on teacher licensing tests, see The Academic Quality of Prospective Teachers: The Impact of Admissions and Licensure Testing (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1999). A study by C. Clotfelter, H. Ladd, and J.Vigdor of elementary teachers in North Carolina also found that teachers with test scores one standard deviation above the mean on the Elementary Education Test as well as a test of content was associated with increased student achievement of 0.011 to 0.015 standard deviations. "How and Why Do Teacher Credentials Matter for Student Achievement?" The Calder Institute (2007).
 
For information on where states set passing scores on teacher licensing tests across the U.S., see chart on p. 13 of NCTQ "Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Removing the Roadblocks: How Federal Policy Can Cultivate Effective Teachers," (2011).