This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
As incubator of the nation???s first charter schools in 1991, Minnesota earned a reputation as an educational innovator. Twenty years later, however, the state still consistently reports one of the biggest achievement and graduation rate gaps for minority students in the nation.
The Minnesota Board of Teaching cleared the way to shake up the status quo in 2014 by approving the first fledgling ???alternative pathways to teaching??? program at the University of Minnesota.
???There are huge challenges in the K-through-12 public education system right now and a lot of criticism that things aren???t working, that we should be trying new things,??? said Jean Quam, dean of the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development, in a UOM video. ???We should be designing new ways to prepare our teachers to work in very diverse, very challenging classrooms.???
The newest way hinges on a partnership between the UOM and Teach for America, an education establishment outsider.
???Our vision is that by 2020, we can ensure 15,000 more low-income students of color in the Twin Cities are in transformational classrooms that will put them on a path of expanded opportunities,??? states TFA???s website.
???We all see the need for diversifying the teacher force and that has been such a focus of our program for many years,??? said Natalie Laukitis, TFA senior manager of regional communications. ???We???re getting much better at it, attracting more people of color, to teach in high needs classrooms across the country.???
A national organization active in about half of the states, TFA recruits and trains recent graduates and professionals who make a two year commitment to teach in poor inner city and rural public schools nationwide.
???I thought I???ll be in this for two years and then I???ll be out,??? Jessica Hayes, a TFA graduate and principal at Hiawatha Leadership Academies Morris Park charter school, said in the video. ??????I started to realize just how deeply rooted the education gap is in our country and I realized that I love working with kids, that I love working with teachers, and Teach for America gave me a way into that world, gave me a way into the education world that I wouldn???t have taken otherwise.???
Minnesota???s alternative teacher preparation program focuses on graduates and others who want to teach, but have no teaching license, in inner city public and charter school classrooms.
While TFA has 500 alumni who have taught in the Twin Cities since 2009, new recruits faced increasing obstacles in obtaining a state waiver to teach ??? until now.
The program aims to combine the best of traditional teacher training courses at UOM with tools and techniques developed by TFA to achieve results in low-income classrooms.
???What personally excites me is just finding new ways for young people who are deeply committed to the children in our communities,??? Deb Dillon, associate dean of the UOM College of Education and Human Development, said in the video. ???This is going to be an exciting time in our college to also be able to do some fantastic research to find out what it is that we need to do to best prepare teachers.???
After an intensive eight-week summer training and teaching residency, TFA members will get two years to learn on the job in the classroom, teaching and taking college courses to enable them to qualify for a full teaching license. The program???s first class kicked off with 38 TFA recruits in the 2014-2015 academic year with a total of 70 TFA instructors currently in Twin Cities classrooms.
???Programs that provide an alternative pathway into teaching meet the same high standards that exist for traditional teacher preparation programs in Minnesota,??? said Laukitis. ???Additionally, they allow for candidates to demonstrate how they meet those standards through both preservice and in-service training and support.???
For now, Minnesota teacher unions view TFA as a threat. In April 2014, the American Federation of Teachers participated in a so-called truth tour ???to expose the darker side of Teach for America and their corporate agenda??? held on the campuses of Macalester College and the University of Minnesota.