Montana’s education regulations are under review and under review

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Over the past six weeks, two review panels convened by the Montana Office of Public Instruction have begun discussing potential revisions to state regulations governing the licensing of educators. Their deliberations so far have focused on strengthening recruitment and retention amid a teacher shortage and creating a clearer path for school counselors to become administrators – all in the midst of a teacher shortage. hope to remove barriers to certification of those responsible for educating young people in Montana.

For the OPI and the Board of Public Education, the process is a matter of routine, a review of agency rules that, by law, occurs every five years. It is also a fundamental element in ensuring the quality of teachers in the state’s K-12 grades, and an element that was emphasized repeatedly during the 2021 legislature. Lawmakers have debated an important draft law, House Bill 246, which inserted elements of the current licensing rules into state law. Although the Public Education Board, through Executive Director McCall Flynn, has repeatedly suggested that the OPI’s non-legislative review process is a more appropriate venue for such changes, the board has eventually supported HB 246, which was enacted in April.

“We try to be careful and cautious about codifying the business rules,” Flynn said in an interview. “We don’t want this to be necessarily the norm, just because it takes a little more time and an explanation of why these business rules were made and why they may have been changed.”

Now, OPI’s review boards are attempting to clean up and strengthen the regulatory framework that inspired the new law, using data, poll results and focus group comments compiled by OPI throughout. of last fall and winter. The specific parts of the agency rules under consideration are Chapter 57, which sets out licensing requirements for educators, and Chapter 58, which deals with the preparation of college educators. Each has its own working group made up of teachers, administrators, parents and stakeholders from the various education associations in Montana.

“These working groups really include such a wide range of people, from community members and parents to people directly in licensing or educator preparation programs,” said Flynn. “This is really necessary for the work of the Public Education Council and the OPI together. “

During the weekly Thursday meetings in June and July, members of the working group have already identified several key areas of interest and concern. At the top of the list for those reviewing Chapter 57, removing barriers faced by school counselors wishing to move into administrative positions such as superintendent or principal, which require a separate level of licensing. Current rules for administrator licenses require applicants to have a master’s degree and a minimum of three years of teaching experience, but do not take into account experience as a school counselor.

Flynn said the Board of Public Education specifically noted the difficulty of counselors getting administrative licenses as “something that we really need to get a handle on to make sure we’re helping clear that path.”

According to the OPI’s 2020 Exercise Clearance Report, the agency denied administrator licenses to three applicants seeking employment as K-12 directors last year. All three held valid school counselor’s licenses. The Chapter 57 Working Group has already considered a recommendation from the Commission for Higher Education Teacher Recruitment and Retention Working Group that would add counseling experience to accepted qualifications.

“We want to make sure our rules clear the way for people to get into these positions. We want to make sure that people don’t find themselves in a situation where they can’t get licensed.

Julie Murgel, Senior Director for Innovation and School Improvement at OPI

Kirk Miller, executive director of Montana school administrators and a member of the OCHE task force, said the change would expand the pool of qualified candidates for open superintendent and principal positions in the state. It was developed after many conversations with administrators and counselors, he added, and reflects the expanded role counselors have started to play in classrooms and schools in recent years, making it suitable candidates for senior level positions.

“In cases these days, which is different from the past, the counselor actually spends a lot of time as a teacher with several different classes,” Miller said. “And counselors, because they are not confined to a specific classroom, usually help with the operation of the school in general, so that they really understand the scope of an elementary, middle or middle school. secondary.”

In recent weeks, the discussion of educator licensing has shifted strongly to the topic of reciprocity. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, and teachers who move to Montana may not meet all of the necessary criteria to become certified immediately. The Board of Public Education sought to alleviate this situation in 2019 by passing a rule licensing teachers certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards – a standard that was included in HB 246. But the barriers for teachers in the Out-of-state persist enough that Rep. Scot Kerns, R-Great Falls, introduced a bill this session that would have offered full reciprocity for certified educators elsewhere in the country. The proposal failed after meeting strong opposition from advocates for public education, who stressed the need for Montana to maintain control over the quality of teachers.

A reciprocity report commissioned by OPI this year to aid in the review process recognized that current state licensing requirements may limit the pool of potential teachers, especially in school districts. located near state borders. The report cites a 2017 study that found math test scores among grade 8 students to be lower in schools where at least a quarter of the potential educator workforce lived across a border of State. Prior to 2002, Montana had interstate agreements with Utah, South Dakota, and Idaho granting full license reciprocity to teachers in those states, but the agreements have since been terminated due to concerns about lax standards for teachers. teachers.

The conversation about reciprocity ties in with OPI’s broader interest in improving teacher recruitment and retention in Montana. Based on the research it compiled prior to convening the working groups, OPI identified a number of potential changes, including reducing the amount of teaching experience required for educators from outside of the state are obtaining certification, which is currently five years. Julie Murgel, OPI’s Senior Director for School Innovation and Improvement, said one of the main goals of the review process is to make it easier for teachers to fit into classrooms without sacrificing the quality of educators.

“We want to make sure that our rules clear the way for people to get into these positions,” Murgel said. “We want to make sure that people don’t find themselves in a situation where they can’t get licensed. “

The work of the Chapter 57 Working Group is closely linked to that of the Chapter 58 Review Committee. John Melick sits in the first, but his work as the Director of Field Placement and Licensure in Montana State University’s education department is closely related to the latter. He said the recommendations produced by his task force could help streamline the path of graduates of state education programs seeking employment in Montana classrooms, while those generated by the The Chapter 58 team can help Montana colleges and universities ensure that these new educators are properly prepared for the job.

“If you want to be a 5-12 math teacher, chapter 58 is really what spells out the content you need,” Melick said. “And so we use chapter 58 to build our programs.”

Discussions on Chapter 58 have so far raised the prospect of standardizing language programs in rural schools in response to the loss of native speakers in tribal communities, and piloting a one-year residency program for them. future teachers in rural or reserve communities who are struggling to fill positions. The latter idea echoes an initiative that Melick’s program at MSU has experimented with in recent years: placing student teachers in smaller communities, including Broadus, Cartwright, Richey, and Sidney for a week at a time. Melick said the goal is to give students the opportunity to imagine themselves working in a rural setting, and he intends to share his resulting ideas through the rule review process.

“It’s hard to see yourself belonging to somewhere if you’ve never been there,” Melick said. “Part of that experience is also spending time in the community, learning what makes these communities truly unique and special.”

The two working groups will continue to refine these points in meetings accessible to the public via Zoom over the coming months, and will ultimately develop recommendations to present to State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen by the end of the year. . From there, OPI will refine them further before submitting its proposed regulatory changes to the Public Education Council for final approval in the summer of 2022.

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