Cooperative Leads the Way with Alternative Teacher Preparation and Micro-Credentialing
Lakes Country Service Cooperative in Minnesota leads the way with alternative teacher preparation and micro-credentialing.
By Troy Haugen, Director of Career and College Readiness, Lakes Country Service Cooperative
with support by Jeremy Kovash, Executive Director and Josh Nelson, Director of Educational Services, Lakes Country Service Cooperative
Since 2011, school districts, charter schools, and education-related non-profits have had the statutory authority to provide teacher preparation in Minnesota, but the political climate and rules around the approval process made it impossible for any single entity to successfully break the glass ceiling of higher education only teacher preparation. The 2017 Minnesota legislative session brought massive change to nearly all components of teacher licensure, including the passage of a major revision of the alternative teacher preparation statute. The revision of that statute juxtaposed with a more favorable political climate, forged a clearer path for Lakes Country Service Cooperative (LCSC) and other eligible entities to obtain approval to become teacher preparation programs in Minnesota. Lakes Country Service Cooperative serves nine counties of west-central Minnesota and is headquartered in Fergus Falls. LCSC’s reach partners with 34 school districts, one state university, four community and technical college campuses, and multiple municipalities, county government agencies, and non-profits.
It had become abundantly clear that the single, higher education only pathway to licensure was not providing the field with enough high-quality teachers to meet the demands of school districts. In Minnesota, this is particularly apparent in the Career and Technical Education fields. According to the 2017 Report of Teacher Supply and Demand in Minnesota’s Public Schools (Minnesota Department of Education, 2017), the Minnesota Department of Education reports that:
- nearly all CTE licensure fields are included on Minnesota’s Federal Shortage Report;
- four CTE licensure areas currently do not have board-approved licensure programs;
- four CTE licensure areas currently have only one Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board-approved licensure program, and that program is not approved to provide for initial licenses;
- one CTE endorsement is offered by three separate providers, however, only one provider actually enrolls candidates as a stand-alone program; and
- only three CTE licensure areas have more than one choice for candidates to obtain a license.
There are many characteristic traits and knowledge sets that make a quality, effective educator. Most educators likely agree with many, if not most of those characteristics. However, a traditional point of contention is the role of teacher preparation in creating those effective educators; more specifically, the actual impact of learning through coursework versus any other sort of learning. Lakes Country Service Cooperative’s (LCSC) conceptual framework for teacher preparation looks fundamentally the same as many traditional teacher preparation institutions, however there is one significant difference; LCSC focuses on and encourages teachers to come to our program with a variety of rich, real-world experiences that are celebrated as an integral component of their effectiveness in the classroom. Contrary to traditional teacher preparation, the focus for LCSC is not the completion of a series of course credits. LCSC’s focus is to allow each individual licensure candidate to show evidence of proficiency in any way that is relevant to the license area to which the candidate aspires. This fundamental premise is what makes the LCSC program very different than traditional teacher preparation. Ultimately, the goal is proficiency in the standards, but the pathway to prove proficiency is much more flexible than a traditional program.
Program Advisory Framework
Recognizing that LCSC is not alone in this work and what strong partnerships are able to accomplish, LCSC’s teacher preparation utilizes a framework of groups to both advise the work and also be leveraged to provide context and content to the work.
Local Site Team
LCSC’s local site team consist of professionals within the education service division of the agency. The local site team advises and staffs three main areas of the unit and program work:
- Quality Improvement Team (QIT) – led by an LCSC staff member with a high level of expertise in program evaluation & improvement and the PDSA cycle.
- Operations Team (OT) – co-led by the Director of Educational Services and the agency’s Deputy Director responsible for operations. The OT focuses on the processes of recruitment, admission, retention, advisement & candidate program review.
- Program Content Team (PCT) – a joint effort between all three advisory groups to LCSC’s unit. The PCT advises the licensure program design, advise, develop, and create micro-credentials, and advise the field experience process.
Regional Partner Team
While LCSC has significant capacity within the realm of effective teaching practice, the agency lacks a high level of content-specific expertise in many areas. Through the regional partner team (RPT), LCSC is able to leverage a high level of expertise that LCSC’s staff lacks. Our RPT consists of regional member superintendents (one large district and one small district), a secondary principal with knowledge of the program areas, local college partners, regional CTE teachers that have or are obtaining licenses in our program areas, members of the business and industry community that represent program areas, as well as leadership from the regional initiative foundation, which is well-steeped in workforce development work across the region.
Statewide Partner Team
Even beyond regional reach, LCSC seeks input from many of our statewide partners. The Statewide Partnership Team further allows LCSC’s unit and programs to leverage a high level of expertise across many areas. The Statewide Partnership Team consists of invited partners representing the Minnesota Service Cooperatives, leadership from state education and employment agencies, and a variety of education associations from across the state.
Based on Malcolm Knowles’ (2012) key discoveries about adult learning (Andragogy) versus adolescent learning (Pedagogy), Knowles developed Five Assumptions of Adult Learning[i] that are applicable today. Throughout his research, Knowles explicitly defines key differences between Andragogy and Pedagogy, which lead to the development of the Five Assumptions that are considered when working with adults.
- Past Learning Experience
- Readiness to Learn
- Reason to Learn
- Driven by Internal Motivation
The premise of how LCSC considered the design of licensure and what is considered best practice around andragogy played out in internal exploration and planning sessions regarding the concept of micro-credentialing.
The most basic definition of a micro-credential for the purpose of licensure is a virtual tool that provides content on a single skill (micro) and requires the participant to submit proof (typically via online portfolio) to demonstrate proficiency of that skill. Candidates are not limited to the content provided within the micro-credential, leaving them room to control their own learning (Assumption #1 – Self-concept) and bring their own experiences into their learning (Assumption #2 – Past Learning Experience). Fundamentally, micro-credentialing is a skill development-based system that requires the participant to demonstrate proficiency.
Program Overview & Structure
LCSC strives to create an efficient, affordable, attainable, results-oriented, proficiency-based licensure program that is a clear pathway to obtain a license, but yet nimble enough to provide individualized programs of study based on the identified needs of the licensure candidate. The intention is to provide these high-quality experiences, on-demand, to candidates without the traditional confines of the academic year.
In brief, candidates are recruited, admitted through a defined process, appointed an advisor/mentor that will stay engaged with the candidate throughout the entire program, will work with their advisor/mentor to determine their individualized licensure program needs, and obtain necessary content through micro-credential stacks and field experience. Once the individualized program is complete, the candidate and advisor/mentor will go through a program completion review and licensure requirement review before finally obtaining a recommendation for licensure. Even at the point of licensure recommendation, the candidate is asked to continue to provide information and data as it relates to continuous program evaluation and improvement.
Programs are designed to be completed in small parts, to accommodate candidates that can prove proficiency outside of additional instruction, and as a whole, for those candidates that have a need or desire to learn and show proficiency in all of the content standards through the program. The program structure is designed with a “stack” of multiple micro-credentials that are aligned very specifically to the content standards required for that particular license. As candidates progress, they submit artifacts to be reviewed (by content experts) in relation to the specific micro-credential. If the candidate provides evidence of proficiency, the micro-credential will be granted. Once the candidate is able to obtain each required micro-credential, their program is considered complete, and their candidacy will move to the next phase of the program (program review completion & licensure requirement review). Candidates that are not able to obtain a micro-credential will have opportunities to re-submit their evidence of proficiency after being provided feedback on their unsuccessful submission.
Only Possible with Partnerships
Like any organization, LCSC has limits of in-house content expertise, and it became immediately apparent that external partnerships are necessary. LCSC has a deep well of partnerships to draw from for whatever we might need to accomplish and LCSC’s teacher preparation programs will certainly leverage those partnerships to develop and further strengthen programs for our members and statewide. The primary source of CTE content across Minnesota is our two-year community and technical colleges, however, those institutions are precluded from providing any sort of teacher preparation in Minnesota. This limitation has significantly hampered CTE teacher preparation in Minnesota simply because four-year colleges and universities are not designed with technical programs in mind. Through a long-standing, solid partnership with Minnesota State Community & Technical College (M State), LCSC’s program has access to high-quality faculty, program design, and content experts that assist LCSC in building licensure programs. This robust partnership allows for the expansion of reach, the assurance of high-quality content, and simply at a more affordable price as opposed to the purchase of university credit.
Knowles, M.S., Holton, E.F., Swanson, R.A. (2012). The adult learner: the definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. New York: Routledge.
Minnesota Department of Education. (2017). 2017 Report of teacher supply and demand in Minnesota’s public schools. Roseville, MN: Retrieved from: http://education.state.mn.us/mdeprod/groups/educ/documents/basic/bwrl/mdyw/~edisp/mde060019~1.pdf
Troy Haugen, Director of Career and College Readiness, Lakes Country Service Cooperative can be reached by phone at (218) 737-6511 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.