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Judge OKs cultural competency requirements for new MN teachers. What happens next?

The Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board still has work to do, then it's on teaching programs to comply.

MINNEAPOLIS — For now, defining what cultural competency looks like in Minnesota classrooms still depends on who you're asking.

"Cultural competency in classrooms, really means that every student, without exception, is seen and valued for who they are, and treated with dignity and respect," said Matt Shaver, Policy Director for EdAllies.

As a former teacher, Shaver says he learned cultural competency the hard way.

"When I got into the classroom, I began to recognize that, as one of the 95% of teachers in Minnesota who are white people serving an ever-diversifying student population, that I had a lot of gaps in my cultural understanding,"  Shaver said. "I didn't know how to make sure that I was teaching in an inclusive way."

Minnesota's Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board is attempting to close those gaps of understanding through a cultural competency requirement that would apply to new educators who are seeking certification to teach in public schools. An administrative law judge has now cleared the way for that requirement, he says questions remain.

Matt Shaver: "My question about this, OK, so teacher preparation programs throughout the state, how are you going to adjust your programs to meet these new standards?"

Kent Erdahl: "Essentially, a lot still has to be figured out." 

Shaver: "Yeah, in terms of implementation, absolutely. This ruling, this thing that is hitting the news, is one of the final checkpoints to making these pretty big changes, and making them real."

But those currently teaching the teachers at the University of Minnesota, say the changes may not be as big as everyone thinks.

"We are just continuing this path in this direction, and this is another way that policy is catching up to people's actions," said Dr. Cynthia Zwicky, 

Zwicky says she, and the university as a whole, has been incorporating cultural competency into teaching for years, and while the topic has become politicized recently, she says wants to be clear about what she is, and is not, teaching.

"It certainly isn't telling people a certain way is right or wrong," Zwicky said. "It's really about telling things from other people's perspectives. We want our children to live in society where they know how to interact and get along with a plurality of people, and I believe schools are the place where we learn those rules of engagement."

"We're talking about the education of children and building societies where everyone can see themselves. There are so many ways to approach this that it isn't as simple as either you're for me or against me."

Despite approving the board's ability to set a new cultural competency requirement, the judge did not approve of some of the board's language, which made suggestions about improving competency through curriculum.

“It is not within the Board’s teacher licensing authority to address gaps in school curricula," judge Jenny Starr wrote. 

Dr. Zwicky says that ruling makes sense, since there is already a state process for reviewing and implementing changes to curriculum.

That means the licensing board now has to fix that language before any of the new requirements can be adopted and go into effect. That process is expected to start at the next regular meeting this Friday.

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